(Updates with comments from Obama speech)
By Annika McGinnis and Mark Felsenthal
WASHINGTON, June 23 President Barack Obama on
Monday directed the federal government to give workers more
leeway in determining their schedules, part of his goal to make
U.S. workplaces more family-friendly - and a broad pitch to
Democratic voters ahead of November elections.
Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and other top
administration officials took turns telling their personal
stories about the struggle to balance work and family at a
campaign-style "summit" stacked with cheering Democratic
supporters at a posh Washington hotel.
"I remember taking the night shift when Malia was born and
when Sasha was born and being up at two in the morning and
changing diapers and burping them and singing to them," Obama
said, talking about his daughters, who are now teenagers.
"The point is, I was lucky enough to be able to take some
time off," he said. "I want every father and every child to have
Obama issued an order requiring federal agency heads to
expand flexible workplace policies as much as possible. The goal
is to make it easier for parents or workers to take care of
family needs and to enable more people to find and keep jobs.
Praising businesses that have taken similar steps, Obama
said family leave should be available across the country.
But the White House stopped short of making specific
legislative proposals to provide family leave. White House
spokesman Josh Earnest said there were "a lot of different ways
for addressing this problem" and the summit was more about
having a "national conversation."
Obama said the event was not just about promoting ideas that
are popular with women, who make up a big part of the Democratic
base, ahead of November midterms.
But he urged people at the event to push Congress to do
"As long as Congress refuses to act on these policies, we
need you to raise your voices," he said.
Obama met with a group of chief executives from companies
including Goldman Sachs and Johnson & Johnson,
chatting for about 45 minutes about their strategies.
PricewaterhouseCoopers, for instance, offers employees an
unlimited number of sick days that they can also use to look
after family members who are ill. Johnson & Johnson's health
encouragement programs lead both to healthier workers and more
than $500 savings per employee each year, a White House report
released Monday said.
"We need legislation, but we don't have to wait for Congress
to act in order to apply some of the lessons from some of these
companies who are doing outstanding work," Obama told reporters
while he sat with the CEOs.
Faced with a Republican-led House of Representatives, the
president's chances of passing legislation are slight. He has
declared that he will pursue his agenda through unilateral
actions such as executive orders and official memos.
But Republicans said Obama and his Democrats have ignored
measures they have put forward that would provide flexibility at
work, such one by Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell that
would allow people who work from home to claim a deduction for a
home office even if they are caring for a child while working.
"Because of President Obama's failed policies, too many
middle-class families either aren't working at all or are barely
getting by with stagnant wages and higher costs on everything
from gas to groceries," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for
House Republican Speaker John Boehner.
(Editing by Nick Zieminski and Eric Walsh)