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One on One with Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the U.S. DOL Women’s Bureau

Sara Manzano-Diaz, Director of the Women's Bureau at the U.S. DOL

by Caroline Dobuzinskis

IWPR was honored to have Sara Manzano-Díaz as keynote speaker at a launch event at the Woodrow Wilson Center for our latest report on immigration, Organizations Working with Latina Immigrants: Resources and Strategies for Change. We also had the opportunity to interview Ms. Manzano-Díaz, the Director of the Women’s Bureau at the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), for this blog on her work championing for the rights of working women and for families.

Ms. Manzano-Díaz’s resume includes judicial, state, and federal titles: Deputy Secretary of State for Regulatory Programs at the Pennsylvania Department of State (appointed by Governor Edward G. Rendell), Deputy General Counsel for Civil Rights and Litigation at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Assistant Attorney General in New York, and a Judicial Assistant and Pro Se Attorney in the New York State Judiciary. She also served as co-chair of The Forum of Executive Women’s Mentoring Committee, which mentors young professional women as they begin their careers, and participated in Madrinas, a program that provides mentors for at-risk Latina girls to encourage them to finish high school and attend college. Ms. Manzano-Díaz holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Relations and Communications from Boston University and a Juris Doctor degree from Rutgers University School of Law.

IWPR:  Please tell me about your background: What led you to pursue a degree in law?  What inspired you to pursue work in the civil service—specifically for women and families?

Sara Manzano-Díaz:  Since the age of five I envisioned myself becoming a lawyer. Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, I became the family translator at a very young age. As a result, a love for advocacy grew from that experience. I became an advocate for my own family, which fueled a passion to advocate for all working families and women. Now, I represent 72 million working women as Director of the U. S. Department of Labor’s Women’s Bureau.

IWPR:  What influence do you think the Women’s Bureau has on policy?  How does it help to empower women?

SMD:  When the law was passed in 1920 creating the office, the Women’s Bureau was given authority to formulate standards and policies that promote the welfare of wage-earning women, improve safety and working conditions, and advance their opportunities for profitable employment. One of the agency’s early achievements was the inclusion of women under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, which, for the first time, set minimum wages and maximum working hours.  As the advocate for women within the Labor Department, the agency was also instrumental in the development of the Family and Medical Leave Act, Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Equal Pay Act.

In the 21st Century, our vision and the policy direction of the program still remains one of empowering all working women to achieve economic security. That translates into preparing them for high paying jobs, ensuring fair compensation, promoting workplace flexibility as well as helping homeless women veterans reintegrate into the workforce. Empowerment of women makes the world work and strengthens the American economy.

IWPR:  What are your goals for the Women’s Bureau?

SMD:  During my tenure, I want to see the Women’s Bureau continue to make a real difference in the lives of women of all races and to help families who have suffered in this economy. Our four priorities include: equal pay, workplace flexibility, higher paying jobs for women and assisting women veterans experiencing homeless. Lucrative jobs exist for women in the skilled trades, green sector and other non-traditional industries. Our goal is to link women to occupations in high-growth and emerging industries that can move them and their families into middle class status. Later this spring, we expect to publish a guide that links women to the green job sector nationwide. Another project will help Latino women, the fastest growing female population in America, achieve financial security through a financial literacy course in Spanish.

IWPR:   The anniversary of Equal Pay Day will be on April 12th this year. How far do you think we have come since the 1963 passage of the Equal Pay Act? What do we have left to accomplish for gender equality?

SMD:  Women continue to make great strides since passage of the Equal Pay Act of 1963. This administration supports the Pay Check Fairness Act and we are working hard every day towards economic security for women. In 1963 women earned $.59 on average for every dollar earned by men, today women earn $.81 on the dollar (based on the 2010 Census). As part of the President’s Equal Pay Taskforce, we are working to ensure that women have the tools to get fair pay in the workplace.

IWPR:  You have had a very accomplished career. What do you consider your greatest achievement?

SMD:  As an attorney, I have spent my career advocating for the voiceless. President Obama and [Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis] share that vision and passion to care for the most vulnerable members of society. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to work for two historic individuals and know that the work we do will impact the lives of working class women and families. As Director of the Women’s Bureau, I get to advocate on a national scale and represent women of all ethnicities in the fight for their economic security, from rural women to single moms to homeless women veterans.

Caroline Dobuzinskis is the Communications Manager with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

The FMLA: Old Enough to Vote, but with Room to Grow

On the occasion of its anniversary, IWPR takes the opportunity to outline the main characteristics of the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and its impact over the past 18 years.

by Kevin Miller

Saturday, February 5 marks the 18th anniversary of the day that President Bill Clinton signed the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 into law. The law requires that employers with 50 or more employees provide 12 weeks of job-protected leave to any employee with one year of job tenure who has worked 1,250 hours within the past year. The law does not require employers to pay employees during this leave, though employees can substitute existing sources of paid leave such as sick days and vacation time in order to receive pay during FMLA leave.

 

Job-Protected Leave

In the 18 years that the FMLA has protected the right of (some) American workers to take job-protected leave, it has helped millions: mothers taking maternity leave and new child leave, fathers taking new child leave, and workers taking medical leave or leave to care for ill or injured family members (a child, spouse, or parent). It remains the only federal law that gives Americans a right to time off work, helping Americans balance work and family.

Gender Neutral

Though FMLA leave can be taken for maternity-disability reasons, it can also be taken to care for a new child regardless of whether that child was born to the employee, born to the employee’s spouse, adopted, or fostered. Nowhere in FMLA is access restricted by gender since the law applies equally to men and women.

Limited Eligibility

A 2007 report from the U.S. Department of Labor found that in 2005, 76.1 million workers were eligible for FMLA-protected leave, or 54 percent of the workforce. Of the 65.6 million ineligible workers, 47.3 million worked at establishments too small to be covered and 18.3 million lacked the job tenure or hours-in-job to be eligible.

Unpaid Leave

The United States is one of only five nations (along with Lesotho, Liberia, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea) whose workers lack a legal right to paid maternity leave. Australia, which previously guaranteed only unpaid leave, has introduced paid parental leave this year. Some American workers who are eligible to use FMLA leave are unable to afford taking unpaid time off from work: a 2000 survey commissioned by the Department of Labor found that among workers who said they needed FMLA leave but did not take it, 78 percent said that they could not afford to do so without pay.

Unequal Outcomes

Despite the gender neutral language of the FMLA, both the eligibility restrictions and the unpaid nature of the leave contribute to gender inequality. Men and women in the workforce are equally likely to work at a covered employer, but women with young children are 16 percent less likely to meet eligibility requirements than are men with young children. Among eligible workers with young children, however, women are more likely than men to take leave—76 percent compared to 45 percent. The unpaid nature of FMLA leave means that married couples may need to choose one parent to take leave while the other continues to work (and receive pay).

The average full-time female worker made 77 cents on the dollar compared to male workers in 2009, so it often makes financial sense for wives to take leave (or leave work entirely) while husbands remain on the job, a strategy that can leave women earning less for years after they eventually re-enter the labor force.

Room to Grow

Passage of the FMLA took eight years of hard work by advocates, researchers, and policymakers. During that time, provisions for paid leave were removed from the proposed legislation as a compromise, with the implicit promise that the law would be revisited and strengthened over time. The FMLA has been amended in recent years, but only to improve access to unpaid leave for airline employees, and military personnel and their families.

Successful efforts to provide paid leave have been limited to the five states with Temporary Disability Insurance systems (California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island), with California and New Jersey expanding their systems to include paid family leave. A recent study of California’s paid family leave system found that implementation of the system had minimal impact on employers and greatly expanded leave for workers in low-quality jobs.

 

The signing of the FMLA in 1993 was a watershed event for American workers, finally providing Americans a job-protected right to time off work. The FMLA has helped millions of Americans take leave from work to care for a new child or family member. However, millions of Americans are not covered by or eligible under the FMLA, and some who are eligible cannot afford to take unpaid time off work. Advocates and policymakers continue to work to expand access to leave that is both job-protected and paid, with the hope that one day Americans will no longer be forced to choose between their jobs and their families.

Kevin Miller is a Senior Research Associate with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Uncle Sam Wants Your Help With Breastfeeding, Really

By Robert Drago, Ph.D.

Since March 23, 2010, when the President signed the Affordable Care Act, employers with at least 50 employees have been required to provide reasonable breaks for mothers of infants under one year of age to express breast milk.  They are also required to provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public, which may be used by an employee to express breast milk. The law only covers nonexempt employees (typically hourly, not salaried employees) and the Department of Labor (DOL) is charged with interpreting and enforcing the law. IWPR just a released a report indicating that the law will dramatically increase rates of breastfeeding among working moms.

Why would the DOL need your help?  Because the law applies to employers with at least 50 employees in any location. That includes a lot of small establishments owned by bigger entities, including many chain restaurants, convenience stores, chain hair salons and barber shops, construction companies, small retailers, all but the smallest of airlines, public transit authorities, sales offices, branch banks, and so forth. These employers do not have to provide permanent facilities, but once a woman requests breastfeeding breaks, a place must be provided, and the DOL is looking for inventive ideas for practices and places that will work. Tell us about what has worked in your experience or use your imagination!

Please email your ideas to Youngmin Yi at yi<at>iwpr<dot>org by January 30, and we will put together the best ideas, post them here on the FemChat blog, and send them to the DOL.

Smaller employers are exempt from the law if they can prove that following it would be an “undue burden.” So, the more great ideas we can generate to make the law work in small workplaces, the fewer small employers will ask for (or receive) exemptions, and more moms will finally be able to breastfeed and hold down a job.

Thanks for any help with this noble work!

Dr. Robert Drago, Ph.D., is Research Director with the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Prior to joining IWPR, Dr. Drago held positions as Senior Economist in the Joint Economic Committee of Congress and Professor at the Pennsylvania State University in the departments of Women’s Studies and Labor Studies. He has published multiple articles and books, including his latest books Unlevel Playing Fields: Understanding Wage Inequality and Discrimination (3rd Edition) and Striking a Balance: Work, Family, Life.

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