As a parent you shouldn’t have to choose between holding a job and holding a baby.
Laura Brown and Keira McNett founded First Shift Justice Project in May 2014 to protect workers in their “first shift” of paid employment so they can fulfill the responsibilities of their “second shift,” providing unpaid care for family members.
Parents are vital to the social fabric and the development of future leaders. People who step up to care for elderly family members or family members with disabilities or illness accept a similarly necessary and challenging vocation. As anyone who has provided unpaid care to a family member knows, fulfilling these commitments always requires sacrifice, including adjustments in schedule. The commitment to this work is lauded in the public sphere, but it is often punished, rather than rewarded, in the workplace. Employers routinely discriminate against workers with family commitments and often view a person’s role as a family caregiver as a liability when it comes to her paid employment. Low-wage workers in particular are the most vulnerable to having their workplace rights violated because of their family responsibilities; for them, the consequences are the most dire.
Keira and Laura have worked with people in low-wage jobs for over a decade, hearing about their workplace problems and helping them address violations of their workplace rights. In doing this work, they met many women (and some men) who lost their jobs due to the birth of a child or the need to care for a disabled, elderly or ailing family member. When they each became mothers ourselves, they began to understand these challenges in an even deeper way. They were moved by the stories of fellow parents, including experiences of pregnant women who were forced on leave during pregnancy “for their own good;” mothers who were fired for taking time off work to care for a sick child; and fathers who were fired for taking time off to accompany their partners to the hospital to give birth.
Laura and Keira realized that traditional legal services alone are not adequate to serve the needs of these workers. When work and family collide, workers in low-wage jobs frequently do not seek legal help in a timely way because they are not aware of the laws which might protect them in this context and do not recognize that their rights are being violated. Even where employers’ violations of the law are clear, these workers have difficulty pursuing legal recourse because of their urgent need to search for work and also continue to care for family members.
First Shift Justice Project better serves these workers by using a preventive, client-centered approach to reach families, educate them about their rights, and enable them to exercise their rights before they have been violated.
First Shift Justice Project is working to bring about a shift in workplace culture that values not only paid employment but also the work of family caregiving. We can advance this vision by giving workers the tools to assert their rights and, by doing so, to foster work environments where employers and workers expect to have respectful and productive conversations about family responsibilities.
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