Obama to expand paid family and medical leave
WASHINGTON — Renewing a push for paid leave for workers, President Barack Obama on Thursday will call on Congress, states and cities to pass measures to allow tens of millions of workers to earn up to a week of paid sick time a year, the White House said.
He’ll also ask Congress for more than $2 billion in new spending to encourage states to create paid family and medical leave programs.
In addition, Obama will take steps to provide federal employees with up to six weeks of paid sick leave to care for a new child. And he’ll propose that Congress pass legislation to give federal workers an additional six weeks of paid parental leave.
Details on how Obama would raise the $2 billion to help states will be in the budget proposal the president releases next month, senior adviser Valerie Jarrett said Wednesday.
Obama wants Congress to pass legislation that has been sponsored since 2005 by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., to allow workers to earn up to seven days, or 56 hours, of paid sick leave to care for themselves or a sick family member, obtain preventive care or deal with domestic violence. Under the Healthy Families Act, workers would earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours they work. Employers that already provide paid sick time would not have to change their policies as long as the time earned can be used for the same purposes.
Obama will also call on states and cities to adopt similar legislation; some already have, as the White House noted in a fact sheet.
More than 40 million U.S. private sector workers don’t have any type of paid sick leave, Jarrett said, meaning they lose pay if they stay home when sick or to care for someone who is.
She said paid sick leave would help the U.S. become more competitive by helping to reduce worker turnover and contributing to worker productivity.
“This is not a partisan issue,” she said. “This is a family issue and it’s an economic issue.”
The National Federation of Independent Business, which represents small businesses, opposes the president’s effort.
Spokesman Jack Mozloom said that, while big corporations can shuffle employees around to fill gaps when a colleague is out sick, the thousands of businesses his association represents — most with fewer than 25 employees — do not have the same flexibility.
Mandated paid leave, he said, would force harmful cuts to employees, including in pay and benefits, and reduced hiring.
“It ripples through the economy in ways the advocates and the president, I think, sometimes don’t see,” Mozloom said.
Obama will also outline ways to broaden access to paid family and medical leave. Under the 1993 federal Family and Medical Leave Act, workers may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off without losing their job to care for a new child, recover from an illness or care for an ill family member. The White House says most families cannot afford such long stretches of time off without pay.
Three states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — offer paid family and medical leave. To encourage others to follow, Obama will propose $2.2 billion in new spending to reimburse up to five states for three years for the actual and administrative costs associated with implementing similar programs.
With regard to the federal workforce, Obama will propose legislation providing six weeks of paid administrative leave for the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child. Federal workers receive paid sick leave and vacation time, but no paid time off specifically for family or parental leave. Under the proposal, federal workers could use sick time to care for a healthy child after birth or adoption.
Obama also planned to direct federal agencies to advance six weeks of paid sick leave that federal workers could use as paid family leave, something agencies can do if they decide to, said Obama economic adviser Betsey Stevenson. Workers would be required to pay back the sick leave over time.
DeLauro and women’s groups applauded the coming announcement.
“Workplaces need to respond to the reality of family life in the 21st century, and allowing employees to have seven sick days a year is a bare minimum,” DeLauro said. “The fact that the United States is one of just a handful of countries that does not require paid family or sick leave is nothing short of shameful.”
The chances that lawmakers will send DeLauro’s bill to Obama’s desk in the next two years appear slim, given that it was first introduced a decade ago.
Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, said Obama’s announcement represents the “boldest action” in support of family-friendly workplace policies in a generation.
“This is fantastic news for workers, families and our economy,” she said.