- PositionColorado Senator
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) joined Fortune for a video interview. 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?
Bennet: We make it too hard for people to work in this country, and when people have to deal with a sick child or a sick parent, or their own illness, often they [lose their job]. We’re the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t have paid family leave, and we should pass it here in this country. The starting place for it should be among a group of progressive bills that we need to pass to better support working people in this country, including increasing the child tax credit, increasing the earned income tax credit, passing paid family leave, and passing an increase to the minimum wage. Those four things together would make a massive difference to families in this country.
How will you ensure that families who need it have access to safe, affordable childcare?
I think affordable childcare is a huge problem in the United States. I used to be the superintendent of the Denver Public Schools, and this was a big issue for parents all across Denver. Central to my economic proposals in this election is the American Family Act, which is a massive increase to the child tax credit. It would increase the child tax credit to $3,600, pay it out on a monthly basis for kids 6 and under, and parents would get $300 a month. Kids 6 and older, $250 a month. It would decrease childhood poverty in America by 40% and allow parents to buy early childhood education if they need it, housing if they need it.
At least from the vantage point of the kids that I work for in the Denver Public Schools and their parents, this would be a much more significant policy to pursue and to enact than certain policies in this race that are described as progressive, like Medicare for All.
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?
I don’t think we’ve gone far enough to address sexual harassment. We did a little bit of work in Congress last year to make things more transparent, make it less easy for members of Congress to settle these kinds of lawsuits or actions in the dark, and that’s good. But we can always go farther, and we need to continue to go farther. Eight-five percent of women in the workforce say they’ve been sexually harassed, and as long as that’s true, it’s clear that we haven’t gone far enough.
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?
People need to understand we still have a huge pay gap. I was really pleased that the very first bill I voted for when I became a United States senator 10 years ago was the Lilly Ledbetter [Fair Pay] Act, which was an attempt to try to equalize pay in this country. But still, women earn only 82% of what men earn. Women of color, it’s even worse than that. So there is much, much more for us to do.
We need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act and continue to legislate federally to make sure that employers aren’t taking advantage of working women. We need to illuminate the gap more so that people can understand that it’s really there. I think companies should post [their gender wage gaps]. And I think the Senate should post it.
Do you support policies that require corporations to have women and other underrepresented groups on corporate boards? Why or why not?
I’m not sure whether I support legislating [representation of women and underrepresented groups on corporate boards]. I’d need to think about that. But my own experience is that the worst decisions I make are the ones that I make by myself in my house. And the best decisions I make are ones that I make with people with contending differences of opinion, with different perspectives and different experiences.
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?
By having paid family leave, we need to make sure that people can come through their pregnancies and come back to work on the other side. People shouldn’t be disadvantaged in any way because they become pregnant, because they’re having a child. There is legislation that would strengthen the antidiscrimination laws to cover pregnancy, and I think that that would be an important thing for us to pass.
This project was published on Jan. 28, 2020.