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Local family-leave initiatives snowball

New York and San Francisco enact new provisions as operators face the complexities

As local governments make the long, slow march to higher minimum wages in the absence of congressional action, family-leave measures at the state and local levels are snowballing as well.

Restaurant operators face the growing complexity of dealing with the varying requirements for scheduling and maintaining benefits, said Dale J. Venturini, president and CEO of the Rhode Island Hospitality Association, based in a state that offers family leave slightly expanded beyond the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday signed a new minimum wage and family leave measure for workers in his state, following California, New Jersey and Rhode Island with provisions for workers to take time off for a new baby, an ailing relative or to help when someone is called to active military service. The New York family leave is to be funded through an employee payroll deduction.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a law that requires employers to offer six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents, expanding on the California family-leave benefit approved in 2004. State law already requires that employees receive 55 percent of their wages for up to six weeks of paid family leave.

The San Francisco ordinance will require businesses with more than 20 employees to pay the remaining 45 percent of their employees’ wages not covered by the state family leave. Eligibility applies to parents of either gender and to both full- and part-time employees who work in the city. The law takes effect in January 2017, with a phased-in program for smaller businesses. Businesses with 35 employees or more must comply by July 2017.  Businesses with 20 or more employees have until January 2018.

On deck is the District of Columbia council, which is considering a family-leave measure introduced last fall with a provision for up to 16 weeks of paid leave.

“Today’s families need both higher wages and paid leave to pay the bills, care for children and loved ones, and have a fair shot at a decent life,” said Joanna Blotner, manager of the DC Paid Family Leave Campaign, in a statement made in the wake of New York’s measure. “We’re excited to see New York lead the way — leadership we hope the D.C. Council and Mayor [Muriel] Bowser will follow.”

The growing number of family-leave measures has drawn opposition from some restaurant groups, especially when they impose new taxes or restrict operators’ ability to maintain schedules.

Marilou Halvorsen, president of the New Jersey Restaurant Association, said her group is opposing paid leaves that are being imposed by municipalities.

“There currently isn't a statewide bill, but it is in 13 municipalities and more to come,” Halvorsen said in a email.

“Most recently the mayor of New Brunswick [N.J.] reached out to my members and the association before an ordinance was introduced and asked for our feedback,” Halvorsen said. “We offered suggestions to make it more palatable and he incorporated our changes.”

Halvorsen said the NJRA would like to see the New Brunswick ordinance become a model for any statewide legislation. 

“It allows businesses to have some control” over their operations, she said.

New York’s paid family leave signed this week may be a blueprint for what’s to come.

New York workers, both men and women, will be able to take as many as 12 weeks of employee-funded paid family leave in a budget deal that also included a graduated move toward a $15 an hour minimum wage. The leave is intended for care of a new baby or ailing relative, or to relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service.

Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who appeared with Cuomo at a Monday event with labor leaders in New York, said she would seek similar a similar expansion of family leave at a national level.

New York’s family-leave policy will also be phased in, starting at eight weeks and 50 percent of pay in 2018, and reaching 12 weeks and 67 percent of pay in 2021. The amount is capped at two-thirds of the New York average weekly wage, which in 2014 was $1,266.44.

Under the deal, New York workers will have a 70-cent-a-week payroll deduction to pay for the program. That will increase to about $1.40 a week.

The federal Family and Medical Leave Act offers an unpaid, 12-week family-leave policy nationwide, but about 40 percent of workers are not covered because of such limits as working for companies that employ fewer than 50 people or work part time.

Contact Ron Ruggless at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

TAGS: Workforce
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