National media enthusiastically covered the story of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors approving the first U.S. requirement for fully paid leave for new parents. That’s been especially gratifying because LAS-ELC staff attorney Julia Parish helped draft the measure — and because we’ve been pushing hard for a long time to make family leave more affordable and available for low-income workers everywhere. But the best part is that the story is not fading away this time.
Finally, strong policy-making for low-income workers and their families is not an only-in-San Francisco thing (as reaction on Facebook to the New York Times news story made clear). Buzzfeed nicely noted in its coverage of San Francisco’s measure how many businesses already offer parental leave at full pay for generous periods. (The new ordinance, which is still awaiting formal adoption, requires that San Francisco employers make up the difference for just six weeks between the state-managed 55 percent payments and their workers’ full pay.) And the Canadian Press news service noted that the time off that parents in San Francisco can take pales in comparison with the year of partial pay that Canadians receive.
Our city and state have repeatedly led the nation in recent years in fundamental policies to help working families get by, starting with the successful push for paid sick leave requirements, which ignited with a San Francisco ordinance in 2006 and then spread. Now several states, including California, require employers to give workers job-protected paid time off.
And this week opened with the news of progress in California and New York toward a $15 minimum wage. There’s an argument that California is still leading on the minimum wage because New York’s won’t apply the same way statewide. But New York did California one better on leave by simultaneously instituting a program providing 12 weeks of partially paid family leave and including a guarantee that workers won’t risk losing their jobs if they take it. (Amazingly, the federal Family Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, covers only about 60 percent of American workers; the rest actually don’t have a right to take leave. And in only California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey is any of that leave paid.)
This campaign year, who knows? Maybe California’s legislators and governor will also see fit to pass job protections. We’re watching AB 908 (introduced by Assembly Member Jimmy Gomez of Los Angeles), which would increase payments and is awaiting Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature. And we’re going to keep pushing for job protections, starting with SB 1166 (introduced by state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara), which would give workers who take family leave the right to do it without fear for their jobs.
The objections to paid leave from the business community have quieted noticeably. Many in fact say they offer it because it makes business sense: It improves employee retention and morale and reduces hiring costs. There is a long list of tech and internet companies offering generous paid parental leave, of course. But others include at least three of the biggest American banks — Bank of America, based in North Carolina; Wells Fargo, based in San Francisco, and JPMorgan Chase, based in New York. Here’s a list of San Francisco employers we’ve singled out with Healthy Mothers Workplace awards.
U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez is unequivocal: Doing nothing on paid leave, he says, is costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars a year.