Clinton pledges to push for paid leave

MANCHESTER N.H. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, called yesterday for requiring more small businesses to provide unpaid leave to employees contending with the birth of a child or a family medical emergency. She also made a campaign pledge to use federal subsidies of up to $1 billion to entice states to mandate paid leave in those circumstances.

“The first part of my agenda is to promote paid family leave,” Clinton said. “Parental leave rules may give many families time off, but families of modest means too often simply can’t afford to take it unless that leave is paid.”

The restaurant industry has steadfastly opposed paid leave, citing the costs and the complications of having to hold a job for a furloughed employee until they return.

Two bills pending in the U.S. Congress would require employers to provide up to seven days of paid family leave annually to employees who work more than 30 hours per week.

The Family and Medical Leave Act, enacted during the administration of President Bill Clinton, requires employers with at least 50 employees to provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year to workers dealing with the birth or adoption of a child, the illness of a close relative, or a personal health problem. In a speech yesterday at a YWCA facility in New Hampshire, Hillary Rodham Clinton called for lowering the threshold of applicability to businesses with 25 or more employees. That lower gauge would likely apply the mandate to far more restaurants nationwide.

If elected president, Clinton said, she would create a $1 billion fund to help states set up and administer paid-leave programs. The dollars would be provided on a matching basis to states that mandate the benefit, in effect cutting their costs in half.

Clinton noted that a number of states have considered the measure. California, she observed, already has a law on the books. Employers there are obliged to provide up to six weeks of leave time at 55 percent of the furloughed staffer’s salary, to a maximum of $880 per week.

Clinton said that if elected, she would provide paid sick leave to all federal employees, thereby providing a “model workplace” to the private sector.