Family leave for New Yorkers, and possibly all American workers, is getting closer to becoming a reality. The idea is being embraced by state legislators and by one of New York's representatives in Congress.
According to data compiled in 2013 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, government support for working parents remains very limited in the United States. Compared with 37 other nations, we stand alone in failing to provide workers with paid time off to care for a new child or sick loved one.
This week, the New York State Assembly passed a paid family leave bill. The Senate has its own version and sponsors in both chambers say they'll work on a compromise.
The measure endorsed Tuesday would provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave of up to $545 a week. The benefit would be funded through an employee payroll deduction that initially would be capped at 45 cents per week.
California, New Jersey and Rhode Island have family leave policies in place. Ken Pokalsky is Vice President of The Business Council of New York State. "New York State would be the 4th of fifty states to have this kind of mandate, in a state where we're already depending on how you look at, the 3rd or 4th most expensive Worker's Compensation state in terms of premiums paid by employers. We just did a significant increase in unemployment insurance taxes to repay some borrowings we had to do from the fed. We are a state that has very high health care premiums for group plans. We're a state that has state-mandate or state-driven costs on employers that are head and shoulders above the majority of states, and here we have this non-chalantly, one more demand that would place both the direct cost and the indirect cost of accommodating leave on employers."
Some argue a federal law would be a fairer road to travel down - at a time when women's issues are high on the politcal radar, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand says lack of paid leave in the United States hits low-income workers and women the hardest. She's pushing for a national law to create paid family leave for all Americans. "Our economy has already lost 3-point-3 Billion dollars because of caregivers who have had to leave their jobs because they needed access to paid leave but still needed to look after their family... the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act would establish a national, gender-neutral paid family and medical leave insurance program. It works just like social security. You and your employer each put a few dollars every week, about the cost of a cup of coffee, and after a year, you're eligible for emergency leave funds. It won't matter if you're a full-time worker or part-time. It doesn’t matter how big or small your business is. And if you qualify for social security, then you'll qualify for this program."
Gillibrand brushes off critics. "When an employee has to quit for his or her family and a company has to rehire or retrain workers every time that employee quits, THAT is bad for business. When a sick employee can't afford to take a break to recover to full health, he's unproductive. And that's bad for business. And here's more news for critics: some states are already on board. Take for example California, which has established a successful paid leave program. A survey found that 91 percent of employers said that the program had either a positive effect or no noticeable effect on their profits."
Workers would have to pay into the system for one year before becoming eligible. When qualified, a worker can receive up to 66 percent of his or her salary, with a cap of $4000 a month.
Ken Pokalsky isn't receptive to the whole family leave pitch. "With a state mandate - this regardless of your staffing needs or your day-to-day workplace needs - we're gonna say 'this is the leave standard that you have to ply with' and I think this is going to be disruptive for smaller employers. Even large employers are gonna have positions whose work needs to be done and whether that's done through additional hours from existing workers, i.e. overtime, or not doing something else that had been important to the company, or hiring new staff, the bottom line is that if it's a vital function, someone's gonna have to do it, and that's gonna have to be picked up. Most employers have leave policies already, apparently not to the satisfaction of the advocates here who want something far larger and far more immediate in every case."
Gillibrand says she has 10 co-sponsors on the federal bill, which is backed by many Democrats and various business leaders. But with Republicans commanding the majority in the House and Senate, it's unlikely that the bill will be voted on in either chamber. That conclusion leads us back to New York.
A spokeswoman for the Cuomo administration answered a request for comment on the Governor's behalf via smartphone, acknowledging the need for family leave but cautioning that the Senate bill should not be accepted, calling it a "half-loaf" that does not provide sustainable funding or a workable framework for employees and employers. The communications goes on - quoting now - "The governor is ready and waiting to sign an acceptable version of this policy – one that reconciles the obligations of family and work – and we urge the members of the legislature to pass that kind of balanced proposal this year.”