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April 11, 2014
As prepared for delivery
Hello everyone. It’s great to be home in Denver!
Thank you Mary Beth and thank you to your team at the Department of Labor for putting together this important forum. I also want to thank Congresswoman DeGette for her leadership on working families. And thank you Dusti for your steadfast support and advocacy of women and the issues working families face.
This forum and others like it around the country are important springboards as we lead up to the White House summit on Working Families on June 23, which the Department of Labor and the Center for American Progress are teaming up with the White House Council on Women and Girls to host.
The Summit will explore how all sectors can work together on such key issues as workplace flexibility, paid leave, equal pay, access to family and medical leave and access to sick days. We will also focus on pregnancy discrimination, career advancement, worker retention and promotion, opportunities for low-wage workers, elder care, childcare, and early childhood education.
Since the beginning of his Administration, the President has focused on how we can create real, lasting security for the middle class by strengthening our nation’s workplaces to better support working families.
We are in the midst of an important national conversation about how we make sure that our workplaces adapt to the needs and new realities of a 21st century workforce. Women are now nearly fifty percent of our workforce. Women graduate from college and many graduate schools at higher rates than men. And in nearly 40 percent of American households, women are the primary breadwinners.
Yet workplaces have not caught up to the reality that we no longer have families where one parent works and the other stays at home. We need to identify the barriers that exist when it comes to fostering – and delivering – on a work culture that accounts for the needs of working families.
We need to make sure that women – and men – don’t face constraints that force them to choose between having a family and having a rewarding career.
President Obama is deeply committed to this national dialogue. In his State of the Union address, the President pointed to the fact that although women make up half of our workforce, they still make 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
Let me quote what the president said in that speech and just said on Equal Pay Day: “That is wrong. And in 2014 it’s an embarrassment.”
At the State of the Union, the President went on to say quote: “A woman deserves equal pay for equal work. She deserves to have a baby without sacrificing her job.“ A mother deserves a day off to care for a sick child or sick parent without running into hardship. And you know what, a father does too. It’s time to do away with workplace policies that belong in a “Mad Men” episode.”
I agree with every word President Obama said. The President also promised in his State of the Union that this would be a year of action. He said that when he couldn’t convince Congress to pass measures that would do away pay inequality, that he would do what he could with the stroke of a pen or a phone call.
I had the honor to be at the White House Tuesday for an on Equal Pay Day event where President Obama did just that. He signed two Executive Orders that will remove some barriers to equal pay for equal work.
With Lilly Ledbetter at his side, the President signed one Executive Order that bans Federal contractors from retaliating against employees who want to discuss their salary. This Executive Order will help encourage pay transparency. Workers will be able to more easily discover violations of equal pay laws and be able to seek appropriate remedies.
The second Executive Order instructs the Secretary of Labor to establish regulations requiring Federal contractors to give the Labor Department data on what they pay their workers. That includes data by sex and race. This is another powerful tool that will allow the Department of Labor to better enforce equal pay laws.
We know that the President has been on the front lines of the battle for equality for women and to lift up the lives of all working families. He has been urging Congress to act on such measures as increasing the federal minimum wage, equal pay, paid family and sick leave, increasing nontraditional and STEM jobs for women, child care and early education.
The White House released a powerful new report just a few weeks ago that said women are more likely than men are to earn the minimum wage. President Obama has issued a clear call to raise the minimum wage. Raising the minimum wage means raising incomes for American families. Too many Americans are working harder and harder and yet falling farther behind. President Obama also took action last month on overtime to help make sure that millions of workers are paid a fair wage for a hard day’s work and rules are simplified for employers and for workers.
At the heart of the President’s messages has been the truism that he says best, and I quote: “When women succeed, America succeeds.”
These issues are at the crux of the all-important summit on Working Families in June. The President knows that our workplaces will benefit if we give every hard-working American the opportunity to get ahead. And this means we must find innovative solutions for how we balance work life and family life.
The President will use the June summit to discuss issues facing the entire spectrum of working families – from young people starting their careers to low-wage workers, to corporate executives. That also means parents caring for their children and grown children caring for their aging parents.
Concentrating on these issues is more than the right thing to do for America’s workers. It’s the right thing to do for America’s economy. And it’s critical to our future global competitiveness. Ensuring the success of women and working families will ensure the success of our 21st Century businesses, our economy and our workplaces.
To create workplaces that ensure every hard working American has the opportunity to get ahead and that are competitive on a global scale, we must make full use of the talented pool of American workers – and this requires innovative solutions for how workplaces and families interact.
Today’s forum is the first of five that will be held around the country. They will provide a valuable opportunity for us. As we work through the challenges and identify solutions, we will be better prepared to get down to business in Washington in June.
As I travel around the country to champion the accomplishments of Federal workers, I talk a lot about the Federal government being a model employer. Are there things we can do better when it comes to work and family issues? Of course.
But I want to tell you a story of what the Federal government’s flexibility and leave policies has meant to one OPM employee. Her experience is an example of how our increasing flexibility in the workplace can make a talented employee more productive in large part because she knows her supervisors give her the support she need to manage her family’s needs.
Brenda has been a Federal employee for 30 years. In that time she has had three children, two with significant health issues. She has overcome breast cancer and the transition to being a single mom. Brenda has used sick leave, Family and Medical leave, used an alternative work schedule and had the support of her supervisors.
She was already a manager when her cancer struck and she began to deal with the complexities of having one son with diabetes and another with severe audio processing problems. But, she says, because of the Federal Government’s flexibility, even in the midst of such turmoil in her life she was able to be promoted to the next management level.
Brenda remembers the early days of telework, when the assumption was that you were goofing off if you worked from home. There were some supervisors, Brenda says, who required employees to sign a piece of paper attesting that their children wouldn’t be home while they were teleworking. Some employees even reported that supervisors and coworkers would call them at home just to see if they heard children’s voices in the background.
Thankfully those days are over.
Brenda is part of the 47 percent of Federal government workers eligible to take advantage of telework since President Obama signed the Telework Enhancement Act of 2010.
Her story points to the dynamism of the Federal employee leave system. It used to be that Federal employees only had sick leave and annual leave. Sick leave could only be used for an employee’s own illness. Over the years, the leave program evolved to also include everything from sick leave for family care to leave transfer programs, organ donor leave and more.
These flexibilities do not only benefit the employees who take advantage of it.
If our employees have the peace of mind to know that if a family emergency comes up, their managers will bend over backwards to accommodate them, then they will go the extra mile when a critical situation arises at work.
We all talk a lot about employee morale and workplace satisfaction. What better way to promote that then to be sensitive to changing employee circumstances and needs. And this doesn’t just apply to the federal government. When companies offer flexible workplace policies, their bottom lines often benefit.
The productivity of their workers increases, absenteeism decreases. And it makes it easier for them to attract and retain the best talent.
I’m proud that our supervisors at OPM have taken the lead in promoting and taking full advantage of new ways to help our employees balance work and family life.
At OPM we support mothers with information about child care. emergency back-up care, support groups. Expecting and new parents are helped with how to approach managers and supervisors with family concerns.
President Obama made sure that the Affordable Care Act requires most workplaces to provide reasonable break times and a private and safe place for nursing moms. OPM has a state-of-the-art facility that has won an award from the D.C. and Maryland Breastfeeding Coalition.
As the President’s Director of the Office of Personnel Management, my mission is to build a world-class workforce for the 21st Century. From resume to retirement, I want to make sure that from the moment someone applies for a Federal job to the day they file for retirement, they have what they need to grow in their jobs and fulfill their responsibilities to their families.
The Federal government is known for its quality benefits.
When we interview that scientist who could find the next cure for cancer or the computer expert who will invent new technology or the engineer who will discover a new way to deliver clean energy, they already know that they will have a quality, affordable health care program. But they may not realize, is that they will be able to structure their work so that they will be able to take their son to the doctor, so that they can volunteer at their daughter’s school or so they can minister to an aging parent.
This isn’t being soft. This is the Federal government being smart.
As we work to recruit, retain and honor the millions of women and men who serve this great country every day, we have to continue to adapt to the ever-changing needs of our next generation of government leaders.
We are a 21st century Federal government. We know if we invest in our people we get the best value for the taxpayer, just as forward thinking businesses know that to compete in this global economy investing in these policies improves productivity and the bottom line.
When I talk to students, when I recruit scientists or when I talk to new Federal workers I can tell them with confidence that we look at the work-life needs of our workforce. We will continue to come up ways to meet our employees’ needs while we continue to provide excellent service to the American people.
I wish you well at today’s forum. I’m looking forward to hearing about some of the cutting edge solutions that will be suggested today.
Let’s continue this conversation through a new website that has just been launched. It’s workingfamiliessummit.org. Tell us your stories. And tell us who we should invite to this groundbreaking summit. I’m also looking forward to seeing some of you in June when we bring all the energy from these regional forums to President Obama’s summit.
I now have the distinct honor of introducing the Governor of the Great State of Colorado, John Hickenlooper. Coloradans are fortunate to have a governor who is so supportive of the very issues the President has targeted. Last May Gov. Hickenlooper signed into law a measure that allows domestic partners and people in civil unions to use the Federal and medical Leave Act in Colorado. Colorado is also one of the few states that have a pay equity commission.
It is my pleasure to introduce the Governor, and my former boss, the Honorable John Hickenlooper.
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