RALEIGH (April 7, 2009) - To make North Carolina's workplace policies match the needs of our 21st century workplaces, a diverse array of speakers told lawmakers today, the state must make workplaces more family-friendly.
The Joint Select Committee on Work & Family Balance, which is studying policy options for both the legislative short session in May and next January's long session, met for the third time today. The committee heard from a diverse line-up of speakers representing mothers, seniors, individuals living with disabilities, small businesses, and poverty advocates. Each spoke to the many reasons that today's workers are struggling to keep up with the competing demands of work and family.
"North Carolinians---both women and men--- are struggling to balance work and family, and the vast majority want to see policy makers put laws in place that will let them fulfill their responsibilities at work without giving short shrift to their families," said Beth Messersmith of MomsRising, an advocacy group for mothers with 13,000 North Carolina members.
Supporting North Carolina's working families is all the more necessary, speakers said, because of the state's changing workplaces. The workforce today looks dramatically different than it did just a generation ago as more mothers, who traditionally shoulder childcare and domestic responsibilities, have moved out of the home and into the labor market.
Families are working longer hours (the typical American family put in an average of 11 more hours a week in 2006 than it did in 1979) and more women than ever have entered the work force. In 1960, only 20 percent of mothers worked. Now, 64 percent of married families with children in North Carolina send both spouses to work.
Nancy Piepho, president and founder of Expedite Group, a corporate concierge service, told the committee that family-friendly policies make sense for businesses.
"I know my employees aren't going to be focused, performing or offering excellent customer service if they are worried about the health of their mom, their child or even themselves," she said. If you hire an employee, you believe in them. You believe their presence is going to create ROI [Return on Investment] for your company. You need to treat them as an all important asset, which means you need to treat them as an adult. If they have personal matters that come up, they should be allowed to take care of them ... For us, it makes business sense. My employees are incredibly loyal and engaged. When we need to work hard to get through a project, no questions are asked."
Speakers presented committee members with a range of ideas and best practices to consider, including paid sick days, expansions of the Family Medical Leave Act, implementing a state paid family leave insurance program, and workplace flexibility policies such as "Right to Request", which would grant workers the right to formally request flexible work schedules from their employers without fear of retaliation.
These policies are necessary, said Dee Hatch, state president for AARP North Carolina, to help the more than 1 million North Carolinians providing care to older and disabled adults.
"In North Carolina, many employees in our state workforce face the challenge of balancing job duties with the responsibility of caring for an older or disabled relative," Hatch said. "It is widely agreed that family caregivers provide 80% of the care needed by older and disabled adults. They are the backbone of our long-term care system."
Momentum is building. Over the past few years, more than 50 organizations around the state have been working on policies such as paid sick days, said Louisa Warren, a policy advocate with the NC Justice Center who coordinates work and family campaigns.
"We applaud the North Carolina General Assembly taking the first step to discuss the many ways that the state could play in role in helping workers juggle work and family," she said. "The time is now - particularly in this economy, while workers are struggling to do everything they can to do to just hold on to their jobs- to take proactive steps forward to put family values back into the workplace."
The committee will be considering interim recommendations for the short legislative session that begins in May as well as producing a final report for the start of the "long" legislative session in January 2011.