This three-day weekend, many of us are mourning the final days of summer and celebrating the beginning of football season and new school years. If I were writing my "What I Did This Summer" essay for a back-to-school assignment, one of the highlights would certainly be attending the White House Summit on Working Families back in June.
Co-hosted by the White House, the Center for American Progress and the United States Department of Labor, the summit gathered 1,500 advocates, policymakers, union leaders, business leaders, economists, politicians and other stakeholders to discuss making changes in law, policy and culture to better support working families.
The keynote speaker was President Barack Obama, who has since signed several executive orders aimed at improving working conditions for federal workers and federal contractors, the only workers he can reach absent congressional action.
Labor Day is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of all American workers, past and present. But, ironically, for many low-wage workers, Labor Day is just another day on the job.
Low-wage workers do not enjoy the luxury of paid time off. Taking time off to tend to a sickness or family emergency could result in evictions, bankruptcies and other financial calamities.
To make matters worse, when it comes to laws supporting working families, Kentucky's policies are lacking. The National Partnership for Women & Families gave us a D- in its state-by-state report analyzing Kentucky laws. Kentucky has done an excellent job enrolling families in its health-care exchange, which is important to low-income workers.
But there's more to be done.
Women shoulder the burden of working families the most. Women are caretakers for children, aging adults, wounded service members and more. Women, especially minority women, are more likely to work in low-wage jobs with little flexibility. Many women are required to work shifts that are unpredictable, or are asked to work overtime with little notice to make alternative caregiving plans.
These workers risk losing their jobs for taking time off when they are sick or need to care for a sick family member. Employers will simply replace them.
While a raise in Kentucky's minimum wage overall would impact one out of every four Kentucky workers, Kentucky women would benefit the most, according to the Kentucky Center on Economic Policy. Because women account for a disproportionate share of the state's low-wage workforce, raising the minimum wage would also shrink the gender wage gap. Although they make up 49.6 percent of the state's work force, women account for 55.2 percent of those who would be affected by a raise in the minimum wage.
So what can Kentucky's elected leaders, business owners and workers do? Here are three things:
■ Raise the minimum wage. Although state efforts to raise the minimum wage failed in this year's General Assembly, localities are getting the green light to move forward with local ordinances. This week, Jefferson County Attorney Mike O'Connell released a legal opinion that Louisville's Metro Council can pass its own minimum wage that is higher than the state's.
■ Allow workers to earn paid sick days. Everyone gets sick, but not everyone has time to get better. Allowing employees to earn paid sick days helps keep our economy, families and communities healthy.
■ Extend family medical leave. The United States is the only developed country that doesn't guarantee workers the right to earn paid time off in some form. In fact, only 12 percent of workers in the United States have access to paid family leave through their employers.
As an attorney and advocate representing low-wage workers, I see every day how many individuals are facing impossible work-life choices and rigid inflexibility in the workplace. This is a scenario that Kentucky should not tolerate.
I urge our businesses and elected representatives to adopt changes supporting working families.