How Corporate Family Leave Policies Are Fueling Inequality

Some major U.S. corporations recently made headlines by creating relatively generous paid parental leave policies—but a new report out Wednesday shows that most companies only offer paid leave to their corporate employees, and short-change low-wage, hourly workers who would benefit from such policies the most.

For example, Starbucks received glowing praise for creating a maternity leave policy that allows new mothers to take 18 weeks off of work, fully paid. But the majority of Starbucks employees—its baristas—wouldn’t benefit. The paid leave policy only applies to corporate workers.

“Every day we get up, a lot of us very early[…] to serve coffee and to make sure that our customers are taken care of,” Jess Svabenik, who makes $11 an hour at a Starbucks in Silverdale, Washington, told Rewire. “To feel like that’s not as important as the work that somebody is doing in the corporate office is frustrating and disheartening.” Svabenik is seven months pregnant.

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And Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, offers 12 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, but only to salaried, corporate employees. Its hourly workers—who work for notoriously low wages—are offered a comparatively meager six to eight weeks at partial pay.

Other examples of such unequal policies abound, found advocacy group Paid Leave for US (PL+US), which authored the report (pdf). Amazon, Nike, Marriott, and Toys “R” Us all confirmed to PL+US that they offer no paid leave to new parents who work part-time, hourly jobs. (Amazon does offer paid leave to full-time hourly employees, a representative emailed Common Dreams to report.)

“Our research shows that it is common practice to leave large proportions of the workforce at many of these companies out of the generous benefits touted in press releases—by excluding hourly, field, part-time or other classes of low-wage employees. We further found evidence that the outsourcing of work to low-wage, low-margin sub-contractors by many large employers furthers the schism between those who have access to paid family leave and those who do not,” the report observes.