Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 | 1 a.m.
It is difficult to imagine the United States Senate without Harry Reid. For decades, he has been a near-constant presence on the Senate floor, his fingerprints on virtually every measure to pass through the Senate during his time as the Democratic leader. The chamber will be forever changed without him, but for those of us fortunate enough to have called him our boss, his departure is personal.
Collectively, we’ve spent over five decades working for Sen. Reid and have been by his side through health care reform, Supreme Court confirmations, immigration debates, battles over reproductive health and questions of national security. Along the way, we started our own families and were given the support and flexibility necessary to continue the work we love as our families grew.
Many stories already have been written about the Democratic leader’s legacy — his legislative and political accomplishments; his colorful past as a boxer, gaming commissioner and Capitol Hill police officer; and his quirky habits — like not saying goodbye before hanging up the phone. But this portrait would be incomplete without a few words about Reid’s accomplishments as an employer — most notably his ability to create an environment that supported and encouraged working parents in an institution that is better known for its long, unpredictable hours and a clubby, male-centric culture.
We were fortunate to enjoy paid time at home with our newborn babies, but as a father of five and grandfather of 19, Reid understood that a generous paid parental- leave policy was neither the starting nor the ending point for a truly family-friendly workplace.
For most of us, workplace flexibility started before our children even arrived. When one of us had an extremely high risk and difficult pregnancy, involving multiple doctor appointments and hospital visits over many months, the senator offered his unwavering support. He said, “You take all the time you need. Go to your doctor’s appointments. Don’t ask, just go. There is nothing more important.”
Another one of us welcomed a baby six weeks early. When that child required weekly physical, occupational and speech therapy on the other side of town, Reid didn’t think twice about scheduling meetings around these appointments, even in the midst of months of intensive health- reform negotiations. Reid valued his staff immensely, and he never questioned the idea that our children should take priority over everything else. He simply worked around our needs as parents.
This same flexibility and thoughtfulness applied to more mundane circumstances as well. Any working parent knows there is a seemingly endless number of both scheduled and unforeseen events that can wreak havoc with the work day — from sick days and school closures for snow days when it doesn’t actually snow to babysitter cancellations, pediatrician appointments, recitals and sporting events. The senator never questioned our absences or early departures. He seemed to enjoy the days we brought our kids to work and made it a point to tell us they were always welcome. One evening, Reid’s leadership team walked into his office for its regular Monday meeting to find one of our 3-year-old daughters sitting in the office with her face painted like a dragon from a party earlier in the day. And when Reid learned that one of our kindergartners was studying the U.S Capitol building in school, he insisted that the entire class come to his office and invited them to his balcony so they could enjoy the sweeping views of the National Mall.
In spite of all of these accommodations, there were still occasions when legislation before the Senate required us to spend consecutive early mornings and late evenings in the Capitol. When it was over, it wasn’t unusual to receive a phone call from the senator thanking us for our work and telling us that we should leave early or take a day if we wanted some time with our children. We usually heard a dial tone before we could respond and thank him.
Sen. Reid liked to say that he was best at his job when women were well represented on his senior staff. However, his family-friendly policies were not limited to mothers. For many years, his top policy adviser — a father of two young children — had to leave the Capitol most evenings in time to pick up his children. This display of workplace flexibility for a male staffer at the most senior level set an important example for the rest of the staff. It contributed to an overall culture of equality that encouraged and legitimized these practices.
We know that our experience is not typical on the Hill. Over the years, we have watched friends and colleagues on both sides of the aisle cut short promising careers in Congress in search of more accommodating work environments. In an institution where salaries are capped by law, parental leave and flexible workplace policies should be an important tool for recruiting and retaining key talent. The benefits extend beyond working parents to those caring for aging or ill relatives or those pursing advanced degrees while working full time. Our experience confirmed what studies have shown: Policies that permit a better work-life balance not only boost morale, retention rates and recruiting efforts, but they increase productivity and foster loyalty.
After 34 years in Congress, including 12 as the Democratic leader of the Senate, Reid leaves behind a wide-ranging legacy that includes scores of measures to help working families. We hope that the senator efforts to modernize his own workplace to accommodate working parents on his staff will and serve as a model for those who follow. The five of us will be forever grateful, not just for the professional opportunities Reid afforded us but for his steadfast commitment and dedication to our families.
Carolyn Gluck was senior policy adviser for Harry Reid from 1996 to 2014, Kate Leone has served as chief health counsel since 2005, Serena Hoy was chief counsel from 2005 to 2014, Jessica Lewis has been senior national security adviser since 2007, and Angela Arboleda was senior policy adviser for Latino and Asian American affairs from 2008 to 2014. They are all