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Part-time, low-wage workers in Amazon warehouses do not benefit from generous leave policies. (Photo: Scott Lewis/flickr/cc)

How Corporate Family Leave Policies Are Fueling Inequality

Starbucks is one of many large U.S. corporations to offer generous paid parental leave to corporate employees while short-changing part-time, hourly workers

Nika Knight

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.

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.

Moreover, "[n]o companies provide the six months of maternity leave called for by the [p]resident of the American Academy of Pediatrics," the group adds.

Americans support paid parental leave by wide margins, yet the U.S. continues to be the only developed country in the world that does not have a government-mandated paid leave policy for new parents. NPR reported last year that more than 50 countries—including many poorer than the U.S.—provide 26 weeks or more of paid leave.

USA TODAY notes:

Research compiled by the University of Washington's Department of Health Services shows a "strong link between paid parental leave and child survival." The United States' infant mortality rate is high for a developed county—twice that of Sweden. PL+US reports 10 additional weeks of paid leave could reduce infant mortality by as much as 10 percent.

According to PL+US, that means that if American workers were able to take just 10 weeks of paid maternity leave, as many as 2,300 infants' lives would be saved.

Correction: This article previously stated that Amazon doesn't offer paid parental leave to hourly employees. The company does offer 20 weeks paid leave to both hourly and salaried full-time workers.

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