- PositionNew Jersey Senator
Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) joined Fortune for a video interview before he ended his presidential campaign on Jan. 13. The following transcript of that conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Fortune/Time’s Up: Do you believe that the United States should have comprehensive paid family and medical leave, and if so, what is your proposal to make it happen?
Booker: I believe the United States should have mandatory paid family and medical leave. In fact, we are an outlier in industrial nations. It’s outrageous that we are the only one without paid family leave.
I support a number of proposals in the Senate to do it, but if I’m President of the United States, I’m going to drive this to completion. And I believe that we can do family leave in the same way we do Social Security—by having the employer and employee paying into a fund to make sure it is something that is available for everyone. This is not something that will hurt the economy—it’ll actually make our economy stronger and empower families to be able to succeed.
How will you ensure that families who need it have access to safe, affordable childcare?
It is outrageous in the United States that we have, in the majority of our states, childcare more expensive than tuition at a state college. This is unacceptable, and especially when you add to that that people who actually work in childcare are often very much underpaid. And so I believe that no one should pay more than 7% of their income in their childcare costs.
I also believe that people who are making about 75% of median income where they live should have free childcare. I have legislation to do just that as a United States senator. If I am President of the United States, we are going to pass that legislation so we can join the ranks of competitive industrial nations making sure that childcare is affordable.
This is part of the larger vision of our country, that children in our nation, from the womb until they get to public schools and beyond, have a nurturing environment to thrive in and succeed. Because they are indeed our nation’s most valuable natural resource.
Do you think institutions—from Congress to Fortune 500 companies—have done enough to address sexual harassment? What have you done, and what will you do, to ensure that work is safe, fair, and dignified for women of all kinds?
We have a lot more to do in this nation to make sure that we are dealing with the crisis in our country of sexual harassment. It exists all through our economy, all throughout our nation. And we have to be far more aggressive in dealing with it. I’m fighting already as a United States senator to make sure that the loopholes in federal law are closed in an act called the BE HEARD Act. And I’m going to fight to make sure that we get that done, both as a senator and as President of the United States.
We need to stop the kind of things that allow sexual harassment to proliferate. We need to make sure that service-sector employees are not vulnerable to them. We need to make sure that workplace harassment is thoroughly investigated and people are held accountable. We need to make sure that folks who are in areas of our economy that are often overlooked—whether it’s people who are immigrants to our country, or contract workers—that we have a system where every person is free from work environments where sexual harassment can be rife.
Women in the United States earn 80 cents on white men’s dollar in wages, a gap that gets even wider for black women, Latinas, and Native American women. What is your plan to work with employers to close the pay and opportunity gap for women, including women of color, LGBTQ women, and working mothers?
We have a real pay gap problem between women and white men, and it’s even more dramatic for women of color. And this is something that is tantamount to theft, and means that you see many women having to work significantly longer just to have that kind of pay equity. That’s just unacceptable in the United States of America. I’m already taking action as a United States senator to correct this. If I’m President of the United States, I’m going to demand better reporting requirements so that we can hold people accountable. I believe that we should have a Department of Justice that’s investigating these kinds of pay disparities and the discrimination that is inherent in that.
I believe that we can do things more through legislation to demand, not just reporting, but other levels of accountability. This is a real issue in the United States that is not just affecting women, it’s affecting children and families, and it is patently hurting this country. It’s about time we be who we say we are, a nation which is really is about equality, not just in words but definitely in pay as well.
Do you support policies that require corporations to have women and other underrepresented groups on corporate boards? Why, or why not?
I support this idea that we must have corporate boards that are reflective of the diversity of this nation. And when it comes to gender equity, this is an issue that we have to be willing to demand. And I know that I could do that as President of the United States by talking about—even if you were going to be bidding on contracts, part of the disclosure that we’re going to look for is, what is the makeup of your corporate board?
I think that we should create more and more levels of accountability. It’s something that I fought for when I got to the United States Senate and saw that Senate staffs didn’t have gender diversity—talk about the board of our nation in terms of the diversity of people who are making decisions about how our country as a whole work.
One of the ways we work to correct that with the Senate leader in the Democratic Caucus was by asking [Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer to make every single senator disclose how many women and minorities they had on their staff. That kind of scrutiny, that kind of transparency helped to see changes being made in the Senate and has helped to address diversity issues. We can do that in the corporate world as well. I will make sure that diversity is not something we [only] talk about or not something that is just a sentiment. We know diverse teams are better teams. We will make America stronger by working to make diversity on corporate boards a reality.
Would you—and how would you—propose to strengthen protection for people who need accommodations to do their jobs while pregnant, or who are discriminated against because of their pregnancies at work?
We need to make sure we have strong laws protecting against discrimination for women who are pregnant. People who are pregnant face discrimination in the workforce routinely, and I think we can strengthen both the letter of the law and prevent there being loopholes. We can set an example in how we do it with government and government contractors. And I think that we can actually do a better job of investigating and enforcing through the Department of Labor as well as the Department of Justice.
This project was published on Jan. 28, 2020.