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President convenes 'family-friendly workplace' summit to consider policies

Published: Tuesday, June 24 2014 4:25 p.m. MDT

President Barack Obama waves to guests before speaking at the White House Summit on Working Families, Monday, June 23, 2014, in Washington. Obama is encouraging more employers to adopt family-friendly policies, part of a broader effort to convince employers that providing more flexibility is good for business as well as workers.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Associated Press

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Twitter, Facebook, web technology and various blogs were all employed Monday as part of the daylong White House Summit on Working Families, where topics ranged from family leave to child care and wage levels, among others.

The President wrote a blog for Huffington Post, noting that "family leave, childcare, flexibility and a decent wage aren't frills. They're basic needs. They shouldn't be bonuses, they should be the bottom line."

The official goal of the summit was "bringing together businesses, economists, labor leaders, policymakers, advocates and citizens for a national conversation about how we can create workplace policies that give modern American families the best chance to succeed at work and at home," wrote Lindsay Holst on the WhiteHouse.gov blog, which featured resources for people wanting to follow along or comment.

"Some businesses are realizing that family-friendly policies are a good business practice, because they help build loyalty and inspire workers to go the extra mile. JetBlue offers a flexible work-from-home plan for its customer-service representatives. Google increased its paid parental leave to five months — and the rate of women leaving the company decreased by half. Cisco lets their employees telecommute as needed, which they estimate saves them over $275 million every year," President Obama wrote.

According to Politico's Edward-Isaac Dovere, the summit comes "at a time when Obama has all but given up on getting anything through Congress and with executive authority that can’t do much to address the situation, is about elevating a conversation: Family lives have changed dramatically. Workplaces have not."

Dovere said the event features "corporations that have signed on to making changes and allies in unions and the media."

In the blog, President Obama announced he was signing a directive telling federal agencies to provide more flexible work options for employees.

He also touted the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, "because too many pregnant workers are forced to choose between their health and their job. They can get fired for taking too many bathroom breaks, or forced on unpaid leave just for being pregnant. It's inhumane, and it needs to stop."

Obama said he directed the Labor Department to put more money in childcare so parents can access job training.

In an interview with CNN prior to the summit, he said his top priority is paid family leave.

Wrote CNN's Mariel Martinez of that conversation: "According to a survey from the United Nations' labor agency, of the 185 countries and territories with readily available information, only three do not provide paid maternity leave. And, you guessed it, the United States made that list. The other two countries are Oman and Papua New Guinea."

"Paid family leave, we're the only advanced country on Earth that doesn't have it," the President told her. "It doesn't make any sense. There are a lot of countries that are a lot poorer than we are that also have it."

The President's second announced priority is workplace flexibility, followed by child care.

MSNBC covered the summit in detail and noted that "the balance of the day was devoted to breakout sessions on issues like compensation, young women’s leadership and caregiving, featuring activists and business owners from around the country."

Continued MSNBC's Irin Carmon: "The economic policies under discussion were explicitly described as women’s issues, part of a general push to expand their political definition beyond reproductive rights and violence against women. 'We talk about the glass ceiling but you know what, it is the sticky floor that is the problem for so many minimum wage workers,' said senior White House adviser Valerie Jarrett in her opening remarks."

The White House also provided statistics on other issues as part of the summit. It said that women make up 47 percent of the workforce, but they earn on average 77 cents to a man's dollar. The wage gap is greater still for women of color. In 60 percent of married families with children, both parents are employed, summit statistics noted.

The #FamiliesSucceed Twitter feed included some statistics on working families and quotes from the summit. Facebook.com/WhiteHouse was a go-to site as well to participate through social media. Both questions and the answers provided are part of the feed there.

In conjunction with the summit, three papers were also released: “Work-Life Balance and the Economics of Workplace Flexibility,” “The Economics of Paid and Unpaid Leave” and “Nine Facts about American Families and Work."

The event was co-hosted by the Center for American Progress and the U.S. Department of Labor.

Email: lois@deseretnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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