Starbucks announced this morning that it's not only giving all U.S. employees a raise, it's also expanding its paid leave policy. Under the new policy, non-birth parents (partners, adoptive parents, and foster parents) will receive six weeks fully paid. The company first expanded its maternity leave policy in January 2017 to include eligible hourly employees. This news follows last week's announcement that Walmart will also start offering paid parental leave to its hourly workers, giving advocates hope this is a new trend among private sector employers.
"The announcement of more robust parental leave policies at Walmart and Starbucks including for their lowest-wage employees reflects a tectonic shift in corporate America and the country at large, recognizing that parental leave should be a basic right, not an elite perk," Katie Bethell, founder and executive director of PL+US said in a statement. Her advocacy group has been working with baristas behind-the-scenes through online petitions, meetings with executives and shareholders to push for this change.
According to the Labor Department, 70% of mothers with children under 18 participate in the labor force, with over 75% working full-time. Yet according to PL+US, only 6% of low-wage workers have access to paid family leave. And a 2015 study found that one in four new mothers have to return to work after just two weeks.
It's notable that Starbucks and Walmart are taking steps to expand this leave, as there are a number of big U.S. employers that don't offer hourly employees any paid time off, including UPS and Lowe's. Yet both companies still offer salaried employees far better benefits than their hourly workers. At Starbucks, women who work in the corporate office get 18 weeks — triple the number of days its hourly workers will get. At Walmart, it's 16 fully paid.
Looking at these numbers, the haves and have-nots of parental leave is clear. I was extremely lucky to get 12 weeks paid leave, and that perk allowed me to navigate those scary and wonderful early days without financial concerns. It's ridiculous that this essential time off is essentially considered a perk by companies, and not a right, as low-wage workers arguably need access paid leave more than salaried employees. And this is just one more reason why women with white collar jobs should advocate for these benefits.
But it shouldn't be up to employers to institute this change. The U.S. is just one of two countries worldwide that doesn't offer a national paid family leave policy, and we have shockingly high infant and maternal mortality rates, especially among women of color. To date, only four states (New York, New Jersey, California, and Hawaii) have laws requiring companies to offer short-term disability insurance that mothers and fathers can use following the birth of a child. It's time for the government to put forth a comprehensive policy, and women from all income levels to advocate for it.
Correction: An earlier version of this article did not clarify that Starbucks' has offered paid maternity leave for hourly employees since 2017. The piece has been updated.