DC Business Lobby Changes Course to Support Employer-Funded Paid Family and Medical Leave on One-Year Anniversary of the Introduction of the Universal Paid Leave Act
DC Paid Family Leave Coalition welcomes business lobby to the conversation on how to guarantee paid family and medical leave for DC workforce, but expresses concerns over details of new proposal
WASHINGTON, DC – This morning, big business associations in DC shared details of a proposal that they say would establish eight weeks of fully paid family and medical leave benefits for many District workers. This legislative proposal is being put forth as an alternative to the Universal Paid Leave Act (UPLA) currently before the Council, which seeks to uniformly offer people working in the District paid leave to heal from serious health issues, care for close relatives, or welcome a new child.
Under the business lobby proposal, companies of 50 employees or larger would be required to directly offer full-time employees up to 8 weeks of paid leave but only after they spent down any saved vacation or sick time. Smaller businesses would be initially exempt but in the future would be required to obtain equivalent coverage for their employees through private insurance plans not yet on the market. The proposal denies workers the ability to care for their aging parents, cuts out people who work part-time, including those who work part-time at multiple jobs, and anyone in their first year on a new job, leaving many thousands of DC families without access to a financial lifeline in hard times.
“While we are encouraged that the big business associations in DC have recognized the urgent need for paid family and medical leave benefits, their proposal excludes too many vulnerable working people and disadvantages small and mid-size firms,” said Joanna Blotner, DC Paid Family Leave Campaign Manager. “Their plan appears to be more costly, more bureaucratic, and less equitable for both employees and employers than what is proposed in the Universal Paid Leave Act.”
The business lobby’s proposal requires an employee to work at least 1,250 hours in one year – the equivalent of 24 hours per week – before becoming eligible for benefits. “Leaving out people who work less than a certain number of minimum of hours, or for less than a year, creates a huge loophole for businesses to exploit,” cautioned Blotner. “We have seen how the Affordable Care Act incentivized employers to cut hours and keep employees part-time to avoid paying for health insurance. “Not all employers are bad actors, but we shouldn’t create a policy that rewards those who are. A common sense paid leave policy would include the largest number of people and especially ensure coverage for people who are currently least likely to have access to paid leave – part time workers, those who are new on their jobs, self-employed entrepreneurs, those working in high turnover industries such as retail or construction, and more. A common sense policy would also not require people to exhaust their hard earned vacation time to address a family or medical situation. Having a baby is a joy but it’s not a vacation – and neither is recovering from surgery or cancer.”
The Universal Paid Leave Act, authored by Councilmembers Grosso and Silverman and introduced with majority Council support exactly a year ago today, covers a wide array of employees and employers. Under this “social insurance” model, each employer makes a small, predictable contribution of 1% of payroll to a central fund, and employees receive wage replacement from that fund when they have to take extended family or medical leave. Successful funds already operate in three states – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island; New York became the fourth state to pass a paid family leave bill, which will go into effect in 2018.
The business lobby proposal requires small and mid-sized employers to contract with private, for-profit insurance companies to provide paid leave. This is an untested model, in contrast to the existing successful state policies. There is no guarantee that private companies will be able to meet the District’s need or that private insurance plans will cost less than the 1% payroll contribution already stipulated in the Universal Paid Leave Act.
“The business lobby’s proposal for employers to pay directly for their employees’ leave may sound nice, but it excludes too many people – people like many of my customers, who can struggle to find full-time employment - while hanging small and medium size business owners like me out to dry,” said Fatima Nayir, the owner of Mama’s Pizza in Anacostia and a member of the DMV Small Business Alliance, a project of Main Street Alliance.
Coalition members also expressed concern about whether the business lobby proposal would be able to safeguard an employee’s ability to request and take paid leave, “It is already difficult for most people – and especially those in lower wage jobs like many of our members – to approach their managers with a need to take a paid sick day or an FMLA unpaid leave,” said Dyana Forester, a steering committee member of the coalition and Community and Political Lead Representative forUFCW Local 400. “Having an impartial enforcement agency determine eligibility is more likely to prevent unjustified denials.”
The DC Paid Family Leave Coalition remains committed to working with Chairman Mendelson, the DC Council, and the Mayor to pass a strong paid leave bill that covers as many people as possible, fairly, and at a low cost. Our coalition is advocating for a policy that universally covers everyone working in the District, pays at least 90% of regular pay to people who earn low wages, guarantees at least 12 weeks of leave, includes the diversity of DC and 21st century families, and provides a lifeline for working families through any of the many health challenges life throws at us. Businesses large and small, presidential candidates on both sides of the aisle, and 80% of Washingtonians agree: it’s time for DC to lead on leave.