Berkeley City Council considers passing mandatory paid family leave

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Xiaoye Yan/Staff

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In its regular Tuesday meeting, Berkeley City Council considered appropriating $2 million annually to mandate that Berkeley employers provide full paid family leave.

Council members decided to create a subcommission on the subject of paid family leave for workers in Berkeley, including city employees, as well as worker protection policies during their leave. The cost of the current proposal, submitted by the city’s Commission on the Status of Women and the Commission on Labor, would cost the city about $2 million every year, according to city staff estimates.

“Right now, clearly the cost of not having leave paid for, in full, is borne by individuals … by the people who have a child and can’t afford to take leave, or have a sick person in the family,” said Councilmember Sophie Hahn during the meeting. “What we are trying to do here is to find somebody else to bear that cost.”

Paid family leave, as mandated by the state, allows parents and caregivers to take six weeks off with partial pay in order to care for a child or a seriously ill family member.

About 41 percent of California employees, many of them low-income workers, are not guaranteed job protection if they take leave, according to a Legal Aid at Work attorney Jenna Gerry. Because of insufficient time spent on the job or workforce size requirements, employees are at risk for termination and are therefore influenced to not take paid leave.

The two commissions seek to implement legislation to afford workers this equal protection.

Additionally, the city is considering increasing the pay provided to its employees during family leave. The state currently covers 60 percent of salaries for government employees, and the city seeks to provide the remaining 40 percent.

Granting city employees full pay during their leave would cost the city about $1,156,034 annually, according to LaTanya Bellow, the city’s director of human resources. An additional estimated annual cost of $1,008,018 would go towards hiring staff to run outreach and education campaigns — these would increase public awareness of employee rights regarding family leave.

In response to support for the program, Bellow called the principle of the program to provide paid family leave “understandable” but urged the council to take financial cost to the city into account. She added that Berkeley has an “excellent” existing benefits program.

The subcommission tackling this issue will be led by Councilmember Ben Bartlett and will include council members Hahn, Cheryl Davila and Kate Harrison.

“I’m really excited about the areas we’ve talked about here — we’ve been discussing some ideas about how this could be implemented in the most effective way for all the stakeholders,” Bartlett said during the meeting. “I’d like to motion to make an ad hoc subcommittee to really bore down into this and really create the formula for a successful program.”

Sophia Brown-Heidenreich covers city government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sophiabrownh.