Sacramento, CA – A broad coalition of more than 450 organizations today celebrated Governor Gavin Newsom’s signature on SB 951, Senator Maria Elena Durazo’s (D-Los Angeles) bill to make Paid Family Leave (PFL) and State Disability Insurance (SDI) more accessible to California’s families. Twenty years after California adopted the nation’s first comprehensive paid family leave program, this bill restores California’s leadership on an issue critical to women and families and makes the program more equitable.
“Twenty years after California adopted the nation’s first comprehensive paid family leave program, we can now be proud that our state leads when it comes to equity for low-paid workers and families of color,” said Senator Maria Elena Durazo (D-Los Angeles). “I am thrilled to see a powerful call for justice and equity from more than 450 organizations representing women, children, workers, and businesses culminate in Governor Newsom’s signature on SB 951.”
SB 951 increases, from 60 to 90 percent, the share of workers’ wages paid by the State Disability Insurance/Paid Family Leave program for those in lower-wage jobs, effective January 1, 2025. As a result, these programs will be accessible for Californians who need to take paid time off from work to recover from serious illness, care for their seriously ill family member or bond with a new child without jeopardizing their economic security. Before this legislation, workers in low-paid jobs were effectively locked out of a benefit they’ve paid for through deductions from each of their paychecks. What’s more, low wage workers who are disproportionately people of color have been subsidizing the paid family leave benefits of higher earners.
“This is a great day. The Governor’s signature on SB 951 means that so many more California workers and their families will be able to take Paid Leave for their own illness, to bond with a new child, or to care for a seriously ill loved one. This will make a huge difference in people’s lives,” said Jenya Cassidy, Director of the California Work & Family Coalition.
Without SB 951, low-wage workers would have to be able to afford a 40% pay cut in order to access the benefits they’ve paid for through a 1.1% contribution from each paycheck. As a result, the lowest wage workers have been up to four times less likely to utilize PFL than middle and higher income workers.
Greater Gender and Racial Equity
Increasing wage replacement rates for these workers is a racial and gender justice issue. California workers earning lower wages are more likely to be women, born outside of the United States, or to identify as Black or Latinx. When lower wage workers cannot afford to take the leave they are entitled to, they are in essence subsidizing the leaves of whiter and wealthier workers while endangering their health and the well being of their family.
“UFCW members refuse to accept that our sisters, who already struggle to make ends meet, are forced to come back to work almost immediately after giving birth to a child because they can’t afford a 40% pay cut under California’s current paid leave program. We had to fight for an equitable solution,” said Andrea Zinder, President, UFCW Local 324 and UFCW Western States Council. “We were proud to support SB 951 to make the Paid Family Leave program more equitable and provide working women with a chance to bond with their babies or take care of a sick family member and not worry about paying their rent, feeding their families and keeping their electricity on.”
“This is a victory for every hard-working mom and dad, for every son, daughter, sister, and brother in our communities who put our families first,” said Tia Orr, Executive Director of SEIU California. “Bonding and caregiving will no longer be a privilege for the few. This is exactly the kind of step we need to take on our journey toward racial, gender and economic equity. SEIU members are grateful to partner with Governor Newsom in creating a California for All.”
Crucial to Reproductive Justice
Following the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade earlier this year, advocates underscored that accessible paid family leave is an essential pillar of reproductive justice for women and pregnant people.
“Until now, workers in low-paid jobs haven’t had meaningful choices when it comes to caring for newborns; we go back to work before our babies or our bodies are ready because there is no alternative that works when our families need food and shelter,” said Maria Bernal, a Sacramento-area fast food worker and leader in the Fight for 15 and a Union. “This new law gives me hope that working moms like me can spend this important time together without sacrificing diapers, formula and other things babies need to thrive.”
California Leads where Federal Government Falters
California’s leadership in strengthening Paid Family Leave took on more urgency after Congress passed a pared-back edition of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan. The Inflation Reduction Act signed by the President in August does not include a highly popular national paid family and medical leave guarantee families need to avoid going bankrupt when they take paid time off from work to recover from serious illness, care for their seriously ill family member or bond with a new child.
“While we continue to advocate for the passage of a national paid leave program, we are proud that our state of California continues to be a beacon of access and hope for families,” said Jackie Thu-Huong Wong, First 5 California Executive Director. “By making our paid leave program accessible for all, we’ve set an example by leading with an equity framework. Thanks to the California Legislature and Governor Newsom, we are on our way to ensuring no parent has to choose between the well-being of their child and/or loved one and their family’s financial security.”
There is bipartisan support for paid leave nationwide – majorities and super-majorities of Republicans and Independents, respectively, say they are supportive of paid leave in each of two recent public polls, as well as in older surveys. In fact, paid leave enjoys the support of more voters than any other policy in the Inflation Reduction Act aside from allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices.
“With SB 951, California has taken a tremendous step forward to invest in our economy, lower inflation and level the playing field with equitable paid family leave,” said David Rattray, former CEO of UNITE-LA.
More than 450 Organizations in Support
More than 450 organizations – from advocates for women, families and equity to business and labor, all supported SB 951. Learn more about the California Work & Family Coalition here: http://www.workfamilyca.org /
“California’s Paid Family Leave program levels the playing field for small business owners who want to provide quality jobs, but more can be done to create healthcare equity,” said Bianca Blomquist, California Policy Director, Small Business Majority. “Our polling has revealed that 60% of California small business owners support a proposal to increase the paid family leave wage replacement rate to 90% for low-wage employees. Senate Bill 951 supports this increase and advances efforts to ensure this critical program provides a living wage. We are proud to support a bill that would promote equitable access to affordable healthcare and give a larger percentage of the workforce an opportunity to take care of a loved one without threats to their financial security.”
“Until now, workers who couldn’t afford a 40% pay cut were being forced to keep working against their doctor’s orders, to work up until the day they go into labor, to leave ill family members without adequate care, and to return to work right after having a child. SB 951 finally ends this inhumane status quo by deleting a loophole that allows workers who are paid over $145,000 per year to contribute less of their income into the fund than lower-paid workers,” said Katherine Wutchiett, Staff Attorney at Legal Aid at Work.
“Where and how you work shouldn’t prevent you from caring for a sick parent, bonding with a new child, or recovering fully after a medical procedure,” said Ai-jen Poo, Executive Director of Caring Across Generations. “SB 951 will ensure that direct care providers, janitors, restaurant staff and many other people in low-income jobs will finally be able to care for their own families.”