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Policy: Labor

Obama cites France as standard for workplace benefits

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Politics,White House,Barack Obama,Labor,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,France,Employee Rights Act

President Obama held up France as the gold standard the U.S. workplace should emulate during an event at the White House on Monday.

Extolling the business virtues of helping workers balance family and employment demands, including providing paid time off for the birth of a child, Obama said that if France can provide the benefits, so can the United States.

“Other countries know how to do this,” Obama said. “If France can figure this out, we can figure it out.”

France provides some of the most far-reaching worker rights in the developed world, including limiting a standard work week at 35 hours and providing 16 weeks of paid maternity leave.

France also has an unemployment rate that has hovered above 10 percent for more than two years, well above the rate of unemployed in the United Kingdom and the United States, which are both in the 6 percent range.

Obama made the comment at the first White House summit for working families, which sought to amplify issues like paid maternity leave and the ability to take paid leave to take care of elderly loved ones.

“Many women can't even get a paid day off to give birth,” Obama said. “There is only one developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave, and that is us. And that is not a list you want to be on, by your lonesome.”

The White House hosted the summit jointly with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and it served in part as a campaign pep rally focused on turning women voters out in November.

The president's filled his remarks with appeals to working moms, talking at length about his role in caring for daughters Malia and Sasha when they were infants and both he and first lady Michelle Obama worked full time.

When dads rearrange their schedules to leave early to go to a parent-teacher conference, “everybody in the office says, 'Oh, isn't that nice?' ” he said. “And then when women do it, everybody is all 'Like, y'know, is she really committed to the job?' ”

The White House attempt to elevate the issue of workplace flexibility isn't corresponding with any new legislative proposals.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest blamed Republicans for the lack of progress on work-place benefits.

“There are a lot of good ideas being blocked in Congress right now,” he said, referring to the House GOP's opposition to an increase in the minimum wage.

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