Prop B may expand parental leave rights

If approved on Nov. 3, Prop B, introduced by Supervisor Katy Tang, would allow each parent of a new child up to 12 weeks of parental leave. (Niklas Larsson/2011 AP)

San Francisco’s government employees could gain more expansive parental leave rights under a charter amendment submitted to voters by the Board of Supervisors with the support of the mayor.

Currently, new parents who are government employees can take up to 12 weeks of parental leave. Yet, a new parent, defined as the birth, adoption or foster parenting of a child, must exhaust their sick time before being able to take advantage of the benefit. Additionally, two parents of the same child can only split the 12 weeks among themselves.

If approved by voters on Nov. 3, Proposition B, Paid Parental Leave For City Employees, would allow each parent of the new child to use up to 12 weeks of parental leave, and they could each keep to 40 hours of sick time following the parental leave. There is no organized opposition against the measure.

In 2002, voters approved the strongest parental leave benefits for public employees in the nation. Supervisor Katy Tang, who proposed the measure, said she wanted to do something to build the effort to make San Francisco more family-friendly.

“There were many ideas we had about adjusting our policy,” Tang said. “But for this November we decided to go for just two simple changes to make it more family friendly.”

After November, Tang will focus on establishing a task force to explore other efforts, such as exploring mandating the benefit for the private sector. “Not every business is the same. It might be difficult. We need to work with them to develop it,” Tang said.

The City Controller estimates that the measure would increase spending between $570,000 and $1.1 million annually. Part of the calculation is based on how many government employees have taken parental leave in the past. The cost impact includes the amount it would take to fill the positions with other workers during both the parental leave absence and for the 40 hours of sick time.

Between January 2013 and January 2015, 687 city employees have taken paid parental leave, according to the Department of Human Resources.

Tang said the costs are worth it not only for the benefits to the parents but also it helps The City “attract good talent” to city jobs. “Many people can choose to work in the private sector and make a lot more money,” she said.

The proposal builds on a growing movement in both the private and public sector to ensure workers have parental leave benefits as the lack of these benefits gaining much more attention. For example, only 12 percent of the workers in the private sector have access to paid family leave through their employer, according to the United States Department of Labor.

In January, President Obama signed a presidential memorandum directing agencies to allow federal workers to take six weeks of advanced paid sick leave to care for a new child or ill family members. In May, Boston’s mayor adopted a law granting city workers up to six weeks of paid parental leave.

“We are clearly ahead of the curve in terms of the entire nation offering 12 weeks, but when you look at other industrialized nations, we are so far behind,” Tang said. “There are countries offering a parent one year off.”

Supports of the measure have pointed to a 2014 report from the United Nation’s Institute of Labor, 98 countries offer paid leave for 14 weeks or more. A 2013 Pew Research Center report analyzing 38 countries found that the median amount of full-paid time off for new mothers was five to six months.

Supporters of these benefits point to studies that show the health benefits such as through more bonding and breastfeeding time, seeing the doctor regularly and reduced risk for postpartum depression.

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