SAN FRANCISCO—The San Francisco Board of Supervisors is voting on whether to require six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents — a move that would be a first for any jurisdiction.
The state already allows workers to receive 55 percent of their pay for up to six weeks to bond with a new child. The money comes out of a state insurance program funded by workers. The proposal to be voted on Tuesday would require San Francisco employers with at least 20 employees to make up the rest.
Advocates say the legislation is needed because too many families can’t afford to take leave, but small business owners say the latest proposal is just another mandate in a long list of city mandates— including paid sick leave and health coverage— that unfairly targets independent owners.
Federal law grants workers up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave. California, Rhode Island and New Jersey provide partial pay, with the money coming from employees. Legislators in New York last month approved up to 12 weeks of partial pay.
Some workers have it better. New parents who work for the city and county of San Francisco enjoy 12 weeks of paid leave while private employers such as Facebook and Microsoft are generous with leave as a way to retain workers.
But Supervisor Scott Wiener, who is pushing the legislation, says not everyone works for the city or Facebook. He sees paid leave for full-time and part-time workers as another step toward addressing income inequality, much like the $15 hourly minimum wage legislation that California Gov. Jerry Brown signed Monday and San Francisco approved for workers in 2014.
For small businesses, however, the proposal is yet another requirement that cuts into their competitive edge. Mark Dwight, founder of Rickshaw Bagworks, a company of 30 employees that makes custom work bags in San Francisco, said local businesses don’t have the wiggle room to spread costs or turn to deep-pocketed investors.
“We are in the most expensive place to do business, and that’s all we’ve got. The economies for scale are just not there,” he said, adding of the mandates, “It’s kind of like, where does it end?”
San Francisco’s Small Business Commission, of which Dwight is president, opposes the measure. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce is neutral. Both groups, which represent thousands of small businesses, say these matters are better addressed by the state or federal government. The business-sponsored Bay Area Council, whose members include Google and Microsoft, supports the proposal.
A California bill increasing the amount of paid leave to 70 percent of wages awaits the governor’s signature.
Advocates say San Francisco would be the first in the U.S. to require full parental leave, an issue that is gaining momentum across the country much like the debate over a higher minimum wage.
“This is another opportunity for San Francisco to stand out and show other jurisdictions that it can be done, and it’s feasible,” said Julia Parish, staff attorney at Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center, in San Francisco.
If approved, the requirement would start in 2017.