San Francisco became the first city in the U.S. to allow new parents to take time off from work without taking a pay cut with Tuesday’s unanimous passage of paid parental leave legislation by the Board of Supervisors.
Largely celebrated at City Hall Tuesday, Supervisor Scott Wiener’s legislation has attracted national attention as the U.S. is glaringly the only industrialized country not guaranteeing such extensive paid family leave.
“It is embarrassing how far behind the rest of world we are in the United States in terms of ensuring access to parental leave,” Wiener said at a rally in front of City Hall before the vote. “We need to stop forcing parents to make the terrible decision about whether to bond with the their child or whether to put food on the table.”
Wiener said ultimately he would like to see a federal paid parental leave law, but in the meantime The City shouldn’t wait.
“This is national movement,” Wiener said, adding that the local law will “move the conversation forward.”
In 2004, California became the first state in the nation to offer paid parental benefits under California Paid Family Leave program, which is funded by workers themselves. Employees receive up to 55 percent of their salary for up to six weeks to care for newborns or newly adopted children. Wiener’s legislation requires businesses with 20 or more employees to cover the remaining 45 percent of the worker’s compensation.
Those supporting the legislation say lower wage workers will benefit the most. Employees of large tech companies like Facebook or Google already enjoy comprehensive paid family leave benefits.
Studies indicate paid parental leave results in numerous benefits for families and children. For example, there is an increase in breastfeeding by mothers, resulting in related health benefits, and a decrease in postpartum depression. Fathers also tend to be more involved in the family.
Julia Parish, an employee at the Legal Aide Society-Employment Law Center, said that nearly two million families have benefited from the state program, However, while 46 percent of low income workers pay into the program, only 12 percent use the benefit.
“New babies are very expensive and they need things like diapers and bottles. Low wage workers really need every penny of their paycheck,” Parish said.
Small business leaders decried the mandate, saying that on top of the previous ones like paid sick leave, universal health care and a higher minimum wage, the legislation would force employers to shut down or move out of town.
Business leaders had called on Wiener to make changes to the law, like applying the mandate only to business with 50 or more workers, or increasing the threshold for workers to qualify for the benefit.
Instead of allowing employees to use the benefit if they work at least eight hours a week after 90 days of employment, small business leaders asked that qualified employees must have at least one year under their belts and work at least a 20 hour work week.
Wiener said that he worked with the business community and did make some changes, but said he was “also sensitive to the needs to our particularly lower income and working class families.”
He added, “Of course there is a financial impact on business. I do not believe that this is going to shut down business or drive business out of San Francisco.
“This is not some massive financial hardship. I understand the concern. But this paid parental legislation is well-crafted, we accepted amendments from the business community and it strikes a good balance.”
But to address such business concerns, the board made additional changes that were proposed by Supervisor Aaron Peskin to the law, which require employment for at least 180 days to qualify. Another amendment increases the effective date for small businesses.
Wiener supported the amendments, calling them “minor” and “reasonable.”
The board voted 10-1 to support the amendments, with Supervisor David Campos the dissenting vote.
“I think the amendments water down the protections,” Campos said.
The law goes into effect in January for business with 50 or more workers. Businesses with 35 or more employees must adhere to the law beginning July 2017, and it applies to businesses with 20 or more employees beginning July 2018.
Initially, the law would have gone into effect for businesses with 20 to 49 workers in July 2017.
Mayor Ed Lee’s spokesperson Christine Falvey said Tuesday the mayor is supportive of the paid parental leave mandate.
“Legislation like this helps working families in San Francisco, and the mayor looks forward to signing it,” Falvey said.
Also Tuesday, the board approved legislation introduced by Supervisor David Campos to prohibit no-fault evictions of teachers and other school employees at both public and private schools during the school year .
Additionally, the board approved legislation, also introduced by Campos, to require businesses and The City to create all-gender restrooms, which means gender neutral or unisex, by changing the signage.