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Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez
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Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis

Remarks for Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis
Women's Bureau National Dialogue — Workplace Flexibility
Southern Methodist University — Dallas, Texas
Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Good morning.

Thank you Sara for that introduction and for the wonderful work you are doing at the Labor Department on behalf of working women.

I also would like to thank Tina Tchen for joining us and thank her for the outstanding work she is doing through the White House Council on Women and Girls.

I am very pleased to have the opportunity to join you and discuss flexible work arrangement issues — issues that are not just women's issues — they're family issues.

Workplace flexibility and family leave are critical issues to the well being of working families and the success of today's work places.

The American workforce is significantly different today than it was just a few decades ago.

Women have entered the work force in record numbers and now comprise 50% of the workforce.

Moreover, women top the number of single heads of households with children has also grown considerably during this same time.

Working parents whether married or single have family responsibilities in addition to the demands of work.

And let me just add that the majority of working parents work because of economic necessity.

They need the family pay check to provide the basic necessities of life.

While the labor force demographics have shifted the workplace frameworks have remained the same — with policies that fail to reflect today's workforce.

Today, more men are taking on the role of primary caregiver and are becoming increasingly responsible for the well-being of their children.

Because of all of these reasons, family leave and work place flexibility issues are of course important to today's working parents.

The ability to carry out some of the most basic responsibilities like taking a child to the doctor or attending a parent - teacher conference is often impossible with flexibility on the part of the employer.

The result is often parents that are extremely stressed out — to say the least — trying to fulfill the demands of work with the responsibility they have to their family.

They are often forced to decide whether to miss work and risk potential adverse consequences, or neglecting their parental responsibilities.

Workers whose mind is not completely focused on their work but worried about a sick child or child care situation are not going to be as productive!

It stands to reason that lack of flexible work place arrangement affects not only working families but can also have detrimental impact on worker productivity.

Despite this fact employers are reluctant to make changes that could accommodate the needs of their employees — often citing concerns of costs to operations.

It is true that costs and benefits of adopting flexible arrangements differ across industries and employers of different sizes.

But we need better data and research to foster a greater understanding of the benefits and costs.

We all know of personal stories where families are being affected by inflexible work arrangements.

And there are plenty of case studies showing that businesses adopting accommodating policies add to the bottom line.

Anecdotal evidence however — will not suffice in making the argument for changes in work place policies.

You all may remember that when the Family Medical Leave Act was passed the same type of data and research was necessary to prove that the legislation —
while at time cumbersome for employers to administer — did not in the end negatively impact the bottom line.

I am happy to say that at the Department of Labor we are preparing to undertake research measures.

It has been a decade since the last Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) surveys were conducted and working conditions and demographics have changed since then.

It's time to update this old data!

That is why our Wage and Hour Division will conduct an FMLA survey in 2011.

This survey is critical in gathering data to ensure that FMLA is meeting the needs of working families.

In addition to new research the Department of Labor regularly engages in reviewing and analyzing existing regulations to determine if and how they can be modified to address emerging working family issues.

For example, this summer following a similar review, we clarified earlier interpretation of the Family and Medical Leave Act and announced that the FMLA protections apply to all family constructs regardless of whether it is:

  • an LGBT family;
  • an extended family; or
  • an "Aunt" who steps in to care for a child because a parent is on military leave or someone needs to care for and elder or aging parent.

These types of policies make a real difference in the lives of working families across all sectors of the workforce.

But we all know there are family leave needs beyond FMLA.

That is why in the 2011 Women's Bureau budget we plan to sponsor a supplement to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' American Time Use Survey.

This supplement will focus on gathering data on parental leave, child care responsibilities, family leave insurance program usage, and other issues related to the intersection of work and family responsibilities.

Our hope is that this survey will assist us as well as experts and advocates in this field working to make flexible work arrangements a reality for today's working families.

For too long, our cultural norms have been to accept work-life policies as a special benefit rather than necessary measures that can benefit employees, employers and can ultimately strengthen our national economy through increase productivity.

We want to make the workplace of the future one that makes the benefits of flexible work arrangements a norm rather than the exception!

Let me conclude by saying that President Obama understands that millions of working families face the challenge of trying to balance the demands of their jobs and the needs of their families.

He understands that the workplaces of the future will have to address this issue to remain economically competitive.

At the Department of Labor we are committed to continuing to our work on these issues and promote the need to alternative work arrangements that benefit workers and employers.

Providing workplace flexibility for family and personal care giving is a key component of my vision of "Good and Safe Jobs for Everyone."

I believe we all agree that work is more than just about a paycheck.

Work is about is dignity and respect.

And it is about providing for your family.

I look forward to collaborating with all of you, and with employers, advocates, unions, and other key stakeholders to find meaningful solutions to the realities faced by working families and employers

Thank you all for being here and thank you all for your work to help America's working families.