Could Equal Pay, Paid Family Leave, and Pregnancy Protections Be the Issues That Bridge the Political Divide?

Is the push to make America’s workplaces more hospitable to parents and pregnant workers the last bipartisan issue? Listening to the rhetoric issued in speeches at the Republican National Convention and from what we’ve heard so far at its Democratic counterpart, one might think so.

The speech in which Ivanka Trump introduced her father to this year’s Republican National Convention was not the first place one might expect to encounter such policy proposals since the official platform of the party doesn’t address any of these issues. . Nevertheless, it is hard to deny two things that Ivanka said: Women in the workplace are unfairly paid less than their male counterparts for doing equal work, and pregnant workers and mothers are shut out of the workplace instead of being supported therein.

Remedying these problems has been a Democratic Party trope for years, and the fact that such ideas drew raucous cheers at the Republican National Convention is certainly a positive sign. But bipartisan lip service notwithstanding, the United States Congress has failed to pass laws that guarantee paid sick leave, pregnancy accommodations, or equal pay for equal work at the federal level.

These three areas in particular are critically important for the civil rights of women workers and working families. Employment and payment on equal terms with men permit women to live their lives independently and with dignity, while pregnancy accommodations and paid sick (or family) leave ensure that pregnant workers and parents do not have to sacrifice their jobs or their financial security to either give birth or take care of a sick child or other loved one.

Although Congress has failed to enact federal protections that would allow more women to have careers while raising their families, state legislatures have been stepping in to fill the void, engaging in cooperative bipartisan efforts to pass these critical protections at the state level.

While our next president should make good on the rhetoric used at his or her convention and push for federal laws that facilitate — rather than undermine — pregnant workers’ and parents’ ability to participate meaningfully and equally in the workplace, many forward-thinking states have already transcended partisan gridlock in order to enact common sense, pro-family workplace policies. Below features a sampling of several states that have recently passed, or are working to pass, these types of legislation, in order to ensure more accommodating workplaces.

Sixteen states and Washington, D.C., have passed laws to protect pregnant workers. California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Utah, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia have all passed Pregnant Workers’ Fairness Acts, which require employers to work with pregnant workers to try to identify reasonable ways in which pregnant workers’ jobs can be adjusted to allow them to continue working while observing physicians’ restrictions imposed due to their pregnancies. Three of these states – New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Utah – are governed by Republican legislatures.

Some 12 other states have proposed such legislation and could pass it in the next legislative sessions. They include: Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Vermont, and Washington.   

Forty-three states have passed laws requiring that women be paid the same as men for the same type of work, including: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Washington, D.C., also has an equal pay law. And five states have proposed Equal Pay Acts. They include Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Only Texas and Utah lack these equal pay laws and have not introduced legislation to enact them.

Very few jurisdictions have passed laws mandating paid sick/family leave. They include California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. But most of these efforts depended on votes from both parties, and many of them were signed into law by Republican governors.

A host of other states have proposed such legislation and have a chance to pass it in the coming months. They include: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The momentum to pass these critical protections for women in the states should serve as both a warning and an inspiration to Congress. Americans – both Democrats and Republicans – care about equal rights for women. So let’s hope the next Congress will pass federal laws mandating equal pay, paid family leave, and pregnancy protections. 

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