- PositionFormer Vice President
Former Vice President Joe Biden responded to questions from Fortune and Time’s Up via email. The following transcript of that exchange 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?
Biden: Absolutely. When I lost my first wife and baby daughter in a car accident, I became a single parent to my two young sons. I’ve taken care of aging parents. I know how hard it is to raise a family, and what it’s like to take care of a sick family member. American workers deserve to know they can keep their families afloat if they have to take care of a sick family member.
It’s time for our federal government to get its priorities straight, so that workers can care for the people they love when they need it most. I was proud to fight for the Family and Medical Leave Act, landmark legislation that created important workplace protections and granted 12 weeks of [unpaid] leave to working families. But we need to go further—I believe the United States should guarantee 12 weeks of paid sick and family leave for workers.
I support the coverage and protections in Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s (D-N.Y.) FAMILY Act, which recognizes that workers need paid time off to care for newborns or newly adopted children, to take care of themselves or family members with serious health conditions, or to care for military family members and help them prepare for deployments. And it won’t just help some workers. Part-time workers, independent contractors, workers who change jobs, and workers at small employers will be able to take the time they need, too. Instead of instituting a payroll tax on employers and employees like the FAMILY Act does, I will pay for this proposal by returning the estate tax to 2009 levels.
One of the highlights of my career as a public servant has been standing with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault; they shouldn’t be left behind here either. As President, I will guarantee paid leave for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking who need time to seek physical or mental care, seek counsel, find new housing, or take other action related to the violence they experienced.
How will you ensure that families who need it have access to safe, affordable childcare?
Ensuring that every family has access to safe, affordable childcare is one of the best things we can do for working parents. Everywhere I go, I meet people who say they can’t afford childcare. When I’m President, parents will get up to $8,000 in tax credits to offset the cost of childcare. All 3- and 4-year-olds will be able to attend high-quality, universal prekindergarten at no cost, and after-school programs and community centers will have additional funding to serve kids when school isn’t in session.
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 prevent and address sexual harassment in the workplace?
Women need to feel safe no matter what. No matter where they are—at home, at school, at work, and in their communities. I have spent my entire career fighting for women’s safety, starting in 1990, when I wrote the Violence Against Women Act. At the time, domestic violence was considered a private family matter. Because of that landmark legislation, and countless survivors who have spoken out, that is no longer the case today. Women who face violence at home or on campus know that they are not alone—that they have a way forward.
I’m proud of what our nation has done to reduce sexual violence, and as President, I’ll double down on those efforts to make sure that women are safe at work. First, I’ll push Congress to pass the BE HEARD Act. This bill takes a comprehensive approach to workplace harassment. It holds all employers accountable. It funds research so we better understand how to stop harassment in the workplace from the get-go. And, it closes loopholes so that all workers—not just some—are protected.
Second, I’ll protect domestic workers from harassment and discrimination by passing the National Domestic Workers Bill of Rights, so that these workers, many of whom are women or people of color, are not left behind, and instead are treated with dignity and respect.
Third, I’ll end mandatory arbitration clauses imposed by employers on workers so that workers who experience harassment can have their day in court. No one should be forced to sign a nondisclosure agreement that silences them and prevents them from speaking out about harassment or discrimination.
Women in the U.S. 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?
It is unacceptable that there are employers paying women less than men for the same work. As President, I will finish the Obama-Biden administration’s work on ending unequal pay. The very first bill the Obama-Biden administration signed was the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, which made it easier for women to fight back if they were unfairly paid less than their male coworkers. We also protected more workers against retaliation for discussing wages and required employers to collect and report wage gaps to the federal government. As President, I will build on this critical work by signing into law the Paycheck Fairness Act.
And, recognizing that women make up the majority of minimum-wage workers, I’ll stop the exploitation of low-wage workers. I’ll increase the minimum wage to $15 per hour, support the elimination of the tipped minimum wage, and dismantle the barriers to higher-paying jobs for these workers.
I believe the United States should be leading on [pay equity disclosures and enforcing penalties for unequal pay]. Improving transparency is one essential step to ending the pay gap between men and women. The Obama-Biden administration expanded requirements for employers to report pay information to improve the federal government’s ability to take enforcement action against employers who are discriminating and change the culture around pay transparency.
As President, I’ll make it easier for workers to join together in class action lawsuits, shift the burden to employers to prove pay gaps exist for job-related reasons, and increase penalties against companies that discriminate, as called for in the Paycheck Fairness Act. And I’ll hold companies accountable by increasing funding for investigators and enforcement actions.
Do you support policies that require corporations to have women and other underrepresented groups on corporate boards? Why or why not?
Make no mistake: Discrimination and bias hold back families, companies, and our economy. It is in everyone’s best interest for our workforce to look like the rest of the country, from the stockroom to the boardroom.
The lack of women at these higher levels is partially a pipeline problem. As President, I would push for policies that would make it easier for women to pursue management and leadership roles—by expanding access to affordable childcare, guaranteeing workers 12 weeks of paid family leave, supporting flexible work schedules, and—importantly—putting an end to harassment and discrimination.
But corporations need to take a hard look at their corporate culture and practices, which is why my administration will push for transparency and also promote best practices for companies to address bias and discrimination.
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?
When businesses refuse to give workers these small accommodations, pregnant women are forced to choose between work and their health. This is all too common in American workplaces, especially in industries where jobs are inflexible and physically demanding—and more likely to be held by low-income women, women of color, or immigrant women. That’s why I support the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which requires employers to provide reasonable workplace accommodations when their employees’ abilities are limited by pregnancy, childbirth, or a related medical condition.
This project was published on Jan. 28, 2020.