Twenty-one of the nation’s largest companies on Wednesday announced an unprecedented $100 million six-year effort to improve child and elder care for their employees in communities across the country.
The corporations, many of them business competitors, were renewing a smaller three-year initiative launched in 1992 to collaborate in the arena of dependent care.
Companies leading the effort, billed as the largest of its kind in American business history, include International Business Machines Corp., AT&T; Corp., Citicorp, and Aetna Life & Casualty Co. Hundreds of smaller companies are expected to join the effort.
“It is an extraordinary commitment and an important event,” said Ellen Galinsky, co-president of New York’s Families and Work Institute. “Not only because of the amount of money, but also because it makes a statement that it is in our economic self-interest to pay attention to the quality of dependent care.”
The size of the commitment also reflects the growing role of women in the labor force and the absence of government aid for working people with children or elderly relatives.
In the second phase of the American Business Collaboration for Quality Dependent Care, so-called “champion” companies will over the next six years invest in more than 1,000 projects in 31 states and the District of Columbia.
“Phase one of the project helped us deliver an array of services to our employees that we wouldn’t have been able to afford alone,” said Ted Childs, director of work force diversity at IBM.
Hundreds of other companies, organizations and government entities are expected to join in sponsoring or improving the quality of programs in specific communities.
In the first phase of the collaboration, 156 businesses as well as government and private groups invested more than $27 million in 300 programs in 25 states. Just 11 blue-chip companies led the effort.
The new funding will be used to establish programs and expand existing ones. It will also be used to develop special projects such as a voice-mail service to help parents keep up on their children’s school assignments and activities. That will be tried out in 97 schools in 10 cities starting this month.
Indeed, in the second phase, a particular focus of the initiative will be on programs for school-age children such as summer camps, after and before school care and holiday programs, Child said.
“The more involved we are in child care, the more dramatic the need for school-age programs,” said Deborah Stahl, director of the Family Care Development Fund at AT&T;, one of the lead companies. “Parents are very concerned about their school-age children.”
Labor Department research shows that at least 57 percent of women with children under six work outside the home, compared with 12 percent in 1950. By the end of the century, about two-thirds of new workers are expected to be women, and 75 percent of them will become pregnant during their working years.
In addition, about 40 percent of workers expect to be responsible for their aging parents in the next five years, according to the Families and Work Institute.
“This involves a strategic business decision to support employees in their efforts to balance their work and family lives,” said Barbara Reisman, executive director of the New-York based Child Care Action Campaign.
The effort will help companies broaden investments in their employees.
“We tend to spend a lot of corporate dollars in our headquarters,” said Michelle Carpenter, director of work-family strategies for Aetna.
Companies involved also said they saw the investment as an important way to boost productivity as well as to recruit and retain top workers.
“If employees are distracted by care for a child or elderly relative it will interfere with their ability to serve our customers,” said Stahl. “The more we can help, the more focused they will be.”
In putting together the initiative, the companies didn’t establish a new administrative structure. The Boston consulting group, Work-Family Directions, helps to set up the programs, which are then run by outside contractors.
Each company or organization decides its own level of involvement, with no maximum and no minimum contribution.
All of the champion companies have equal say in the collaboration. The dollar amount each has pledged has been kept secret.
New centers or programs are run by independent operators and must be financially self-sufficient after the initial investment. Employees pay for the care, although some companies subsidize the cost.
Employees have priority access to spaces created in care programs, although remaining spots are open to the general public.
xxxx PROGRAM PARTICIPANTS Here is a list of the 21 companies leading the $100 million nationwide effort to improve the quantity and quality of care for the children and elderly relatives of working parents: Aetna Life & Casualty Co., Hartford, Conn. Allstate Insurance Co., Northbrook, Ill. American Express Co., New York Amoco Corp., Chicago AT&T; Corp., New York Bank of America, San Francisco Chevron Corp., San Francisco Citicorp, New York Deloitte & Touche, Wilton, Conn. Exxon Corp., Irving, Tx. GE Capital, Stamford, Conn. Hewlett-Packard Co., Palo Alto, Calif. International Business Machines Corp., Armonk, N.Y. Johnson & Johnson, New Brunswick, N.J. Eastman Kodak Co., Rochester, N.Y. Mobil Corp., Fairfax, Va. Nynex Corp., New York. Price Waterhouse, New York Texaco Inc., White Plains, N.Y. Texas Instruments Inc., Dallas Xerox Corp., Stamford, Conn.