Area firms join federal 'honor roll' Project identifies those who aid working women

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the U.S. Department of Labor kicked off a project yesterday that honors local employers for taking steps to help working women.

A dozen companies and institutions -- ranging from a recycling firm to a hotel -- now are part of the Labor Department's "Working Women Count Honor Roll." The companies pledged to aid working women by offering flexible working schedules, extended maternity leave, improved health benefits or job training and advancement.

"I would like to formally challenge Baltimore companies to follow the lead of these companies," said Mayor Schmoke before about 50 working women at City Hall. "I want to make the city a national model for working women."

Since the honor roll program began on Labor Day, about 500 companies nationwide have made the pledge, said Karen Nussbaum, director of the Labor Department's Women's Bureau, who attended the ceremony.

The idea stemmed from a Labor Department survey of about 250,000 working women last year that found women wanted business to meet the needs of families, Ms. Nussbaum said.

Dawn Sheckells, 31, a senior secretary at Catholic Relief Services and a mother of three children, said her employer's commitment to women gives her more time to spend with family.

When Mrs. Sheckells had her third child in June, she was given six weeks of paid maternity leave and three months of unpaid leave. Previously, Catholic Relief Services granted six weeks of maternity leave at 30 percent pay.

Mrs. Sheckells also takes advantage of Catholic Relief Services' "flextime" option, implemented last year. It allows employees to work and leave earlier, or take time off in the day to attend teacher-parent conferences.

"Before it was 9 to 5. I got the dishes done, and it was time to go to bed," said Mrs. Sheckells, who lives in Bel Air.

Others on the honor roll are: Baltimore Gas & Electric Co., Baltimore RESCO, The Baltimore Sun Co., Century Engineering, the City of Baltimore, Harbor Court Hotel, Housing Assistance Corp., Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, Signet Banking Corp., Westinghouse Electric Systems and YWCA of Greater Baltimore.

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