Summer has gotten off to a strong start for Washington’s Jews United for Justice and its agenda, which is focused on workers’ rights advocacy.
A $15 per hour minimum wage measure, a JUFJ priority, was just signed into law in the District of Columbia, and the organization is continuing its push for two other major pieces of legislation: paid family leave and a part-time workers’ benefits.
Regarding a bill that received a green light June 23 from the D.C. Council’s Committee on Business, Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, the group is urging D.C. lawmakers to adopt a measure aimed at providing more work hours and benefits to part-time workers in the city who work for large chain retailers with more than 40 establishments. Under the proposal, businesses would have to notify workers two weeks in advance of work schedule changes.
The group is advocating that the city enact a paid family-leave law that would give city employees 12-to-16 weeks of paid time off to recover from an illness or injury, or take care of a newborn baby.
“Unfortunately, many workers are told two days out, a day out that they need to come in to work, which means you can’t plan childcare, you can’t plan education, you can’t plan a second job, you can’t plan family caregiving responsibilities. This bill would help make hours and schedules more predictable,” JUFJ campaign manager Joanna Blotner said following the committee’s 3-2 vote of approval on June 23.
The vote took place the same day JUFJ members visited all 13 council members’ offices to urge the lawmakers to support the paid family leave bill. Blotner said this bill along with the other two measures are essential to bring fairness to the workplace.
“The city is just too expensive to get by without an increased minimum wage, to get by without paid family leave,” Blotner said. So it’s good to see the council is moving forward with these issues.”
The fate of the family leave bill remains up in the air. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At large) and David Grosso (I-At large) introduced a version in October. In February, expressing concerns about costs, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D-At large) came up with a new draft to reduce the amount of paid time to 12 weeks. It would also limit the percentage of income that workers can collect during that time.
All 13 members of the council must meet for a markup session before the final bill can be introduced. That could happen within the next two weeks, but the council’s summer recess begins July 15 and continues until September.
During JUFJ’s paid family leave campaign meeting on June 9, Blotner emphasized to roughly 50 attendees that it is essential to include other elements in the bill, such as paternity leave, that the council has not discussed.
“We want to make sure we evaluate all parents as caretakers in the most inclusive way possible, especially in thinking about how this affects same-sex couples who are raising children and making sure that their needs are also met,” she said.
JUFJ also hopes to include mental health as a criterion for taking paid time off, in order to ensure that all heath situations are covered.
“This is a really big hurdle that we need to get to, and what we’re hearing is actually pretty positive in the council,” she said. “That people want this to happen, they know it’s coming, they think paid and medical leave is the right thing for D.C. and that’s it’s going to get there. The question is, how big of a program is it going to be?”