Council approves long-overdue family leave benefit for city employees

This afternoon, the City Council approved a new parental and family care leave policy for city employees.

The process of defining this benefit began almost a year ago, when on March 30th last year Council member Lorena Gonzalez published a schedule for developing the legislation. In July, after several hearings and much work behind the scenes, she and the Mayor announced details of their plan, as part of a larger workforce equity strategy (here’s my analysis from last summer).

It was supposed to be passed in September and take effect on January 1st, 2017. Clearly that didn’t happen; apparently it took longer for the City Budget Office to model it, and for the city to negotiate the terms with the unions that represent city workers. A sticking point with the union likely was the requirement to draw down a certain amount of accrued sick leave before the full 12 weeks of paid leave can be accessed.To address the tardiness of the bill, the city is making it retroactive back to the beginning of the year.

From the press release, here is a quick summary of what is in the legislation:

Paid Parental Leave:

  • The leave benefit will increase from four weeks to up to twelve weeks for eligible employees, for the non-medical care of a newborn or child placed for adoption, foster care or legal guardianship.
  • The leave must be used within 12 months of birth or placement.

Paid Family Care Leave:

  • Eligible employees may receive up to four weeks for the care of a qualifying family member with a serious health condition in a 12-month period.
  • Qualifying family members include employees’ parents, spouses or domestic partners and children, or the children or parents of employees’ spouses or domestic partners.
  • Eligible employees must have the serious health condition of a family member certified by a health care provider, and must draw down their sick leave to a minimum of two weeks and vacation leave to one week to receive “new” leave.

In an unusual move, the bill (co-sponsored by all nine Council members) was introduced directly to the full Council, skipping the committee process altogether.  It is expected to cost the city an additional $3 million annually. Last fall in the budget process, the Council set aside $1.5 million for this purpose in anticipation of the ordinance being adopted, so the city may have to move some money around later this year to cover a potential shortfall ($1.5 million is small change in the city’s budget).

Not surprisingly, the bill passed with an 8-0 vote (Council member Juarez was absent today).

With this in place for city employees, Council member Gonzalez will likely turn her attention to the next step: securing paid family leave to all workers in the City of Seattle.