Obama to promote flexible workplace polices at White House conference

McClatchy Washington BureauJune 23, 2014 

President Barack Obama will use a White House conference on working families Monday to issue an executive action allowing federal employees to request flexible hours without fear of retaliation.

Although the conference is scheduled to be more of a forum for discussion rather than a policy rollout, Obama will announce several efforts to extend protections to mothers, fathers and pregnant women who work in public and private sector jobs.

None of the president’s announcements are entirely new policy, but extend existing law. For example, the executive action is directed toward implementing flexible work policies currently on the books “to the maximum possible extent.”

The Obama administration hopes that doing so will alter the “national conversation” and “culture,” which stigmatizes asking for flexible work, White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said in a call with reporters on Sunday.

Several administration officials cited limits on Obama's unilateral authority and called on Congress to pass legislation that promotes work-life balance.

Republicans, however, accuse the administration of using the pressure on working families as an issue for the midterm election.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell last week accused Democrats of looking to government for the answers and to blocking a number of family-friendly bills championed by Republicans, including a measure he backs that would allow working mothers to enter into a voluntary agreement with employers to bank overtime in the form of time-off.

He said the White House wants "everyone to think they’re on the case — that they’ve got a plan. But what they don’t seem to realize is that nobody really believes them anymore. That folks have moved on."

While Obama previously announced support for the Federal Employees Paid Parental Act, he'll endorse Pregnant Workers Fairness Act on Monday.

Like the federal employees paid parental act, the measure currently has no Republican co-sponsors. Administration officials noted however, that red state West Virginia passed a similar measure with the same name earlier this year. Nine other states have comparable laws.

“Too many women still face discrimination in the workplace,” said Betsey Stevenson, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers. “Too many women are forced to take unpaid leave or fired for doing something as simple as asking to sit while working or needing additional bathroom breaks, which God knows I needed when I was pregnant.”

The White House will also unveil a new website with information about each state’s flexible work policies. There will also be a ranking of states based on the degree to which policies such as paid family leave are law.

Aiming to spark a “national conversation” about leave and flexible workplace policies, members of the Obama administration, including Vice President Joe Biden, and notable women’s rights figures, such as activist Gloria Steinem, are scheduled to speak at the daylong event in Washington, D.C.

The conference is the culmination of a handful of “summits” the Department of Labor has hosted nationwide this year.

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