The White House’s latest pander: Paid leave is a ‘worker's right’

In the White House’s quest to pander furiously to the American constituency that they believe wants nothing more than other people’s money, the Obama administration is planning a new push to liberate American workers from the scourge of unpaid leave.

On the heels of the administration’s insulting proposal to offer “free” college to American students, a plan that is anything but “free” and that places much of the cost burden on the states which agree to participate, the Obama administration is proposing to make paid sick leave mandatory.

The Healthy Families Act would affect 40 percent of American private sector businesses that have 11 or more employees. It would require those firms to offer at least seven days of paid leave time to employees and provides states and municipalities with $2.2 billion to develop their own paid leave programs. Obama will also sign a memorandum that grants federal employees’ six days of paid leave.

In a post on the social media network LinkedIn, White House advisor Valerie Jarrett wrote that the administration believes paid leave should be a “worker’s right, not a privilege.”

How many working parents know that sinking feeling from sending their child off to school with a fever? How many Americans have to show up to work when battling an illness even when they know they won’t be at their best, it will lengthen their recovery time, and they may likely spread their sickness to others? And how many moms and dads have been denied the ability to bond with their newborn, or to care for an aging parent, all because they could not afford to miss work? These are real, significant moments in life that nearly everyone faces at some point. The last thing we should do is add guilt, fear, and financial hardship on working parents as they try to do what’s right – while keeping their job.

We know that today, 43 million private sector workers in the U.S. are without any form of paid sick leave. Only three states — California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island — offer paid family and medical leave. The United States remains the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave.

The truth is, the success and productivity of our workers is inextricably tied to their ability to care for their families and maintain a stable life at home. More and more employers are coming to understand this. And voters get it too—from Massachusetts to Oakland, they have been showing their overwhelming bipartisan support for policies allowing workers to earn paid sick days.

“[W]e can’t say we stand for family values when so many women in this country have to jeopardize their financial security just to take a few weeks off of work after giving birth,” she closed. “We can’t say we’re for middle-class stability when a man has to sacrifice his economic security to care for his ailing mother.”

Ideally, those who want paid sick leave to be included in their benefits package (or what we used to call “benefits,” but are now elements associated with the Rights of Man), the prospective employee should seek out an employer who offers this as remuneration for services rendered. And many employers do. Those who do not are traditionally low-to-entry level employers who find it unnecessary to part with seven days’ pay for work they could receive from another able individual.

Who is going to pay for this? Don’t answer that. The issue is a “moral” issue. This is a “right,” much like those God-given freedoms enshrined in the Constitution. Supporters of this mandate hope their righteous indignation will silence you.

Is lacking access to paid leave suboptimal for many unskilled employees? Yes, and, in many cases, it is a condition that can lead to hardship. Is it an example of the Dickensian cruelty associated with unfettered capitalism? Hardly, but it serves the political aims of this White House to exacerbate inter-class tensions. It is all they have left.

So, we will have a debate over paid leave in this country as we had over hiking the federal minimum wage. Nothing will be accomplished save for increased bitterness and acrimony. The White House will conflate opposition to the government imposing unsustainable cost burdens on employers as opposition to paid sick leave. They will hope that when this initiative fails, as it will, they will be able to frame those Republicans who opposed it as having done so out of spite.

It is a breathlessly cynical tactic, but also one that has worked well for the Democratic Party in recent years. If Republicans were as irresponsible custodians of national comity as are the Democrats, perhaps they would consider taking this page out of Obama’s playbook.