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THE FIGHT FOR PAID FAMILY LEAVE AND THE FUTURE OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT

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BARACK OBAMA may be the first U.S. president who genuinely understands working women's issues, as the chapter on "Family" in his book, The Audacity of Hope, makes clear.1 Perhaps that's among the reasons that women - especially women of color - voted for him in record numbers last November.

Notwithstanding Sarah Palin's presence on the Republican ticket, 56 percent of women (compared to 49 percent of men) voted for Obama, according to exit polls. In addition, women turned out to vote in greater numbers than men in 2008, making up 53 percent of all voters.2

Their confidence was not misplaced. As president, Obama immediately signaled his commitment to improving the lives of working women, signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act - which provides redress for sex discrimination in pay- just days after taking office. His commitment to helping working families also became apparent early on. During his presidential campaign, Obama promised to make family and medical leave more accessible and more affordable, and to set a new minimum standard of paid sick days. During his first weeks in office, he established the White House Task Force on Middle-Class Families - which has improving work-life balance as one of its five goals- as well as the White House Council on Women and Girls. Michelle Obama's First Lady's office and the White House Domestic Policy Office have also signaled a strong interest in women's issues.3 In addition, Obama promised to reinvigorate the Department of Labor's Women's Bureau.

Although working women have many unmet needs, including affordable child care and pay equity, the current policy agenda focuses on paid family leave and paid sick days. Polling data suggests that women today are more concerned about this than any other issue. In a November 2008 poll, for example, 35 percent of women indicated...