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Thread: Paid Family Leave Could Become Reality in California

  1. #1

    Paid Family Leave Could Become Reality in California

    August 29, 2002

    Paid Family Leave Could Become Reality in California
    Run Date: 08/29/02
    By Rebecca Vesely
    WEnews correspondent

    Momentum is building for California to become the first state to mandate paid family medical leave. Also, the world summit on development is ignoring the birth control issues because of U.S. opposition to family planning, say women's advocates.

    SAN FRANCISCO (WOMENSENEWS)--In a battle that has pitted labor interests against businesses, California legislators are considering a bill that would provide paid leave to workers who need time off to care for a newborn or sick relatives.

    The Paid Family Leave Act would provide up to six weeks of paid leave to more than 13 million California workers. The program, administered through the state's disability insurance plan, would pay out 55 percent of workers' wages over the six weeks, with a cap of $490 per week, starting in 2004. Employees could use the time for parental leave or to care for ill family members or domestic partners.

    The bill has passed the Assembly and the Senate is expected to give its final approval today. Democratic Gov. Gray Davis, in a bid for reelection, has not taken a position on the bill.

    Paid Leave a Crucial Issue for Women

    Paid family leave is especially important to women, who are often the primary caretakers for ill parents and children. National studies suggest that inflexibility in work schedules is one of the biggest barriers women face when looking for paid employment. Two-thirds of job trainers preparing women to leave welfare say that conflicts between work and family often prevent job placement, according to a report by the National Partnership for Women and Families.

    Today, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act and California Family Rights Act provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but studies show that many workers do not take advantage of the time off because they cannot support themselves without a paycheck. As many as 78 percent of workers nationwide who need family leave cannot afford to take it unpaid, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In addition, 55 percent of workers do not have vacation or sick days to fall back on in case of a family emergency.

    California is ahead of other states in making paid family leave a reality because it is one of only five states that offers temporary disability leave, and thus has an infrastructure in place that could be expanded to administer the program. Twenty-seven other states have considered legislation for paid family leave this year.

    "We're at a great advantage over other states," says Pam Haynes, legislative advocate for the California Labor Federation AFL-CIO, which helped draft the bill. "We don't have to build something completely from scratch, which cuts down on the cost of starting the program."

    Polls Show Support for Plan, but Businesses Worry About Costs

    The plan calls for the state to deduct approximately $27 from the average Californian's paycheck (.08 percent of wages). The bill was recently amended, however, to strike a provision requiring employers to pay into the program over concerns that the extra cost would hurt small businesses.

    Other recent amendments also have whittled down the program: reducing paid leave from 12 weeks to six; requiring workers to take two weeks of unused vacation before receiving paid leave and mandating verification that no other family members are available to help out with family needs.

    Still, Haynes says polls show that workers want paid family leave so much that they would be willing to pay as much as $5 per week out of their paychecks for the program.

    But opponents of the bill say that costs to administer the program are still too high, especially for small businesses, which employ 6 out of 10 workers in California, according to the National Federation of Independent Businesses.

    About 1.2 million women own businesses in California and the majority employ fewer than 50 workers. So far, about 13,000 businesses have signed on in opposition to the bill.

    Julianne Broyles, director of insurance and employee relations for the California Chamber of Commerce, says that bill is "outrageous" because it does not carve out an exception for companies with a small number of employees. She describes the bill as a "job killer."

    Broyles argues that very small businesses, such as an auto transmission shop with five workers, would suffer from lost productivity if even one worker went on paid family leave, possibly closing down the whole shop and putting more workers on the unemployment rolls. California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

    "All workers would be penalized if even one worker took paid leave," Broyles says.

    Broyles argues that less costly ways exist to make paid family leave a reality, such as using tax credits for workers or starting a voluntary "opt-in" program.

    Like State Disability, Everyone Pays In

    Jennifer Richard, legislative assistant for Democratic state Sen. Shelia Kuehl of Los Angeles, the bill's chief sponsor, counters that an opt-in plan would cost more.

    "The reason why the cost for this is so amazingly low is because, like state disability insurance currently, everyone pays in, whether you need family leave or not," Richard says. "It's there for everyone when and if they need it."

    A report by the National Federation of Independent Businesses claims that paid family leave could create millions of dollars in hidden costs in the form of lawsuits, unrealized sales, overtime for workers covering for those on leave and liability insurance. Women would be disproportionately hurt because more women own small businesses and work for small companies than men, the report says.

    Richard rejects these arguments, saying that under current law, small businesses have no legal responsibility to hold a job open for a worker who goes on unpaid family leave or on disability. Small businesses would have the same protections under the paid family leave plan, she says, with any on-leave employee's salary and benefits paid through the state-administered employee-contribution pool.

    Pro-paid leave forces have their own report--this one arguing that family leave would actually save the state money. The Labor Project for Working Families using U.S. Labor Department statistics found that California companies could save $89 million under a paid family-leave program due to increased employee retention and decreased worker turnover. And the state could save $25 million each year because of decreased reliance on assistance programs, such as food stamps, which families often turn to during unpaid leave, according to that report. One in 10 workers who take unpaid family leave rely on public assistance, according to bipartisan Commission on Family and Medical Leave.

    "Those who say [the bill] would be a financial burden to California businesses are using baseless and irresponsible scare tactics," says Netsy Firestein, executive director of the Labor Project for Working Families.

    Outcome of Bill Likely to Rest with Davis

    Though many California businesses are lobbying hard to stop Kuehl's bill from becoming law, the bill is now on the way to reach Davis's desk.

    Davis's single biggest supporters in California are labor unions, which account for more than 13 percent of his total campaign contributions, a Los Angeles Times report found. But he is not popular among many business groups, and may be under pressure to appear pro-business during this election year. Davis's Republican foe, millionaire Bill Simon, has support among business associations.

    However, Simon's campaign has been severely crippled since his family's business was slapped with a $78 million civil penalty in July for fraudulent dealings.

    Concerns about spending for new programs also could kill the bill. The state Assembly still has not passed a budget for fiscal year 2003 because of bitter fights over how to make up a $24.7 million budget shortfall--slashing health care programs and other social services to make ends meet.

    "Is this any time to consider a new spending program?" Broyles asks rhetorically.

    Supporters of paid family leave say the answer is yes.

    "It is a very good time to make paid family leave available to workers," says Haynes of the California Labor Federation. "A disproportionate number of families need support during difficult economic times to take care of sick family members."

    Rebecca Vesely is a frequent contributor to Women's Enews.


    For more information:

    National Partnership for Women and Families
    "Campaign for Family Leave Benefits: An Overview":
    California Chamber of Commerce:
    The California Coalition for Family Leave
    Labor Project For Working Families:

  2. #2
    *********************FIST IN THE AIR******************YES!!!!!!!!

    Ya gotta love all those old California hippies who have infiltrated the legislature!!!!!!!!

    Tough times don't last - tough people do.

  3. #3
    Davis Oks paid family leave

    First in nation, new law affects time off for workers to care for family members, to cost employees up to $70 a year

    September 24, 2002

    California workers will be the first in the nation to be eligible for up to six weeks of paid family leave under a bill signed into law Monday by Gov. Gray Davis.

    The law, which would take effect July 1, 2004, extends disability compensation to cover employees who take up to six weeks off from work to care for a new child or to care for a sick or injured family member.

    Employees will be eligible to receive 55 percent of their wages during their absence, up to a maximum of $728 a week, tax-free. They would be required to use up to two weeks of vacation time first for family emergencies.

    The new leave benefit, created through a bill by state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, will be funded entirely by employee payroll deductions beginning Jan. 1, 2004. The deduction will amount to .08 percent of a worker's income and will cost the average worker about $27 a year. The deduction will be capped at $70 a year for those earning more than $72,000 a year.

    About 13 million of California's 16 million workers will be eligible for the benefit. State and local government employees who contribute to a different plan are exempt.

    The bill does not cover all workers. Businesses with fewer than 50 employees are not required to hold a job for a worker who takes paid family leave, according to the AFL-CIO, which helped write the bill.

    "I don't want Californians to choose between being good parents and good employees," Davis said during a signing ceremony at UCLA's Mattel Children's Hospital.

    Davis' GOP rival in the November election, Bill Simon, called the bill a "one-size-fits-all mandate" that will prove too costly for small businesses.

    "I believe that we must provide options, such as benefits that allow employees to opt in if they desire such coverage, and provides incentives to employers to contribute," Simon said in a statement.

    "This avoids taxing every employee and employer in the labor force in order to provide a benefit not everyone wants."

    The bill was vigorously opposed by business organizations but supported by union interests.

    For companies that already have adjusted to providing unpaid family leave allowed by federal law, the new state rules are just one more part of doing business.

    "Running a business is a constant adjustment," said Ernie Ongaro, one of four partners who operate Ongaro & Sons plumbing and heating company in Sonoma County and its Marin County division, Crane & Son.

    Ongaro said he anticipates it may be hard to adjust at first, but that the law will be accepted once people understand it.

    "I'd expect the employees to complain about another payroll deduction at first. But we're a family-run business and we want our workers to be able to take time off when they need to," Ongaro said. "We'll discuss the new law with our workers. We'll make sure they understand the cost and benefits."

    With a payroll for 70 employees, Ongaro figures about half of his employees are at the age when many are starting families and may want to take time off to be with newborns.

    "We just had an employee take pregnancy leave and you work around it. You adjust," he said.

    Under current law, the disability insurance program provides disability payments to eligible workers who are unable to perform their customary work due to a nonindustrial injury, illness or pregnancy.

    Under SB 1661, workers will be allowed to receive up to six weeks of paid leave that will be funded by employees through the State Disability Insurance system.

    The new law was denounced by the California Chamber of Commerce, which led a coalition of groups that has tried unsuccessfully to kill the bill.

    "It's a huge disappointment to us that the governor would even consider signing it," said Julianne Broyles, a lobbyist for the chamber in Sacramento.

    "California businesses will be at a competitive disadvantage because of this, and Davis doesn't seem to care."

    Chamber officials said the bill will hurt companies that must hire to fill in for absent employees.

    "This is a tremendous victory," said Karen Nussbaum, assistant to AFL-CIO President John Sweeney in Washington. "It was a huge effort on the part of the labor movement."

    Twenty-seven other states have introduced similar legislation, but none has been signed into law. Current federal law grants up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for workers and also applies only to larger businesses with more than 50 employees.

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