Sawant fires up her supporters on parental leave

Council member Kshama Sawant is throwing down the gauntlet on parental leave.

Earlier this week during the budget meeting, Council member Sawant  put forth a proposal to redirect some funds that would otherwise pay down a debt into a fund to potentially pay for Seattle to increase its parental leave for city workers from 4 weeks to 12. The proposal didn’t change the policy, nor did it establish — or even identify sources for — a long-term source of funding beyond 2016 for such an increase. Both  the details of the policy and the funding will require substantial effort and negotiation before they can be enacted into a workable policy.

While on one hand Sawant’s attempt to get ahead of the game is admirable by setting aside funds that would allow the city to get started in 2016, the board was split on her proposal for a number of stated reasons — and for the unstated one that Sawant has managed to alienate several of her colleagues on the Council who in turn feel little desire to help her out. And because Council member Harrell was absent from the meeting, the final vote was 4-4.

This coming Monday, the budget committee gets one final chance to make changes to the 2016 budget before it goes for a final vote by the full Council. Sawant has decided to make one final run at getting her proposal through by raising it again. In typical Sawant fashion, rather than try to build a coalition among her colleagues on the Council, she has appealed to base of supporters to show up on Monday and demand that her proposal be approved.

First, it’s interesting that she is asking them to go to the full Council meeting at 2pm and not the budget committee meeting at 10:30. That may be a tactical error (or simply a typo).

Second, her appeal makes it sound like the issue at hand is enacting a 12-week parental leave policy, which strictly speaking is not true. All that’s at stake at the moment is whether some extra funds would be set aside in 2016 from a one-time windfall to get a policy started IF one actually gets negotiated and approved — and since none of the work has been done to understand the financial implications of such a policy, no one knows if the amount Sawant’s proposal would reserve would actually even cover the program for 2016. And if Sawant’s proposal fails again, there is nothing actually preventing the Council from still moving forward with a 12-week parental leave policy next year; they could either have it begin in 2017, or they could find the funds elsewhere.

Sawant lost on several other proposals she put forth earlier this week: allocating $10 million from the city’s emergency fund for addressing the homelessness crisis, an LGBTQ community center on Capitol Hill, and a pilot project for municipal broadband. It’s interesting that the parental leave policy is the one she’s chosen to focus on in rallying her troops to get a reversal.

In this week’s budget meeting thee was a full hour of public comment, mostly from Sawant’s base, but in the end that didn’t appear to sway the Council members. It’s unlikely that the four that voted against the proposal will change their minds next week. That means Harrell will be the swing vote upon his return. He is not known to be a fan of Sawant, but one imagines that the phone is ringing off the hook in his office today and his email inbox is filling up with demands that he support Sawant’s proposal.

Monday’s budget meeting will be interesting.

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