Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced a proposal to increase the amount of paid family leave for working parents in San Francisco. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

Businesses denounce family leave plan

Just a week before San Francisco could become the first city in the U.S. to require that employers offer six weeks of fully-paid leave for working parents, small business owners have come out against the mandate with sharp criticism.

The U.S. lags far behind parental leave benefits offered in other nations. But legislation that would implement up to six weeks of fully-paid leave for working parents in San Francisco is slated to go before the Board of Supervisors for approval on Tuesday.

The proposal by Supervisor Scott Wiener comes amid increasing efforts to expand the worker benefit around the nation as studies show the significant health benefits associated with parental bonding. Some tech companies like Facebook and Google have started offering up to four months of paid parental leave.

Under California Paid Family Leave, a state program 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 Paid Parental Leave for Bonding with New Child legislation would require businesses with 20 or more workers to fund the remaining 45 percent, giving new parents the opportunity to receive their full salary for six weeks of parental leave.

But business leaders are criticizing the measure, arguing it only adds another business mandate that could drive small businesses under. On Monday, the Small Business Commission voted 6-1 recommending the board reject the legislation.

“Can we make the Board of Supervisors run a business, meet payroll, so they understand how these things work?” said Small Business Commissioner Stephen Adams. “Enough is enough is enough. This is bad for small business.”

Small Business Commission Chair Mark Dwight, founder and CEO of Rickshaw Bagworks, a local manufacturer of messenger bags, suggested the mandate would harm San Francisco’s famously unique merchants.

“If we want all those small businesses to move out of our city, then we are doing the right thing,” Dwight said.

“I am a small business owner and they are not,” Dwight added, referring to the board. “They know not of what they speak. And they make us look bad in the process because we look like we are somehow pitted against the very people we day in and day out support with a paycheck.”

The commission had unsuccessfully asked Wiener to amend the mandate to only apply to employers with 50 or more employees. The commission also asked the benefit to apply only to those employees who work for a business for one year and at least a 20 hour week, not the proposed 90 days and 8 hours a week.

Wiener said he worked with the business community on the legislation, making some amendments in response to the feedback. But Wiener stood by the importance of expanding paid parental leave.

“The U.S. is so far behind the rest of the world when it comes to allowing parents to bond with their newborns,” Wiener wrote in a text message to the San Francisco Examiner. “This is a basic issue of family health. We need to stop forcing parents to choose between bonding with a child and putting food on the table. This legislation will move us in that direction.”

This story has been updated from its original version.

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