By Chloe O’Malley, news correspondent
An initiative for Boston to provide its employees with paid parental leave is being pushed by the City Council with Mayor Martin J. Walsh’s blessing.
Ordinance 0567 was introduced formally by Councilor At-Large Michelle Wu during a council meeting on Wednesday, March 25. It is designed to provide employees who have worked at least a year for the city with six weeks of paid parental, regardless of gender. The package includes two weeks of full pay, followed by two weeks of pay at 75 percent wages, followed by two weeks of pay at 50 percent wages.
The paid leave applies toparents of all genders, mixed-gender and same-gender couples, single parents, adoptive parents and biological parents, as well as parents who experience stillbirth.
For several councilors, this issue is a personal one. Wu, who spearheaded the initiative, was inspired to do so by the birth of her own son.
“This is meant to set the tone on an issue particularly impacting women,” she said.
Councilor Timothy McCarthy, District Five,who has two teenage children and filed the ordinance alongside Wu, put in a word for the men.
“We need to make sure the dads are taken care of as well,” McCarthy said.
Since the ordinance was filed, McCarthy said he has received a surprising number of personal messages from Boston fathers who appreciate the idea.
Councilor Tito Jackson, District Seven, said the matter became relevant to him when he had to discuss parental leave with one of his own employees. He pointed out that when it comes to parental leave, workers in the public sector are disadvantaged in comparison with many of their counterparts in the private sector.
“Every single company I worked for gave men and women at least eight weeks,” Jackson said of his own experience.
Massachusetts state law ensures eight weeks of unpaid leave for new parents, which wasextended to include fathers earlier this year. Currently, only three states in the US – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island – ensure paid family and medical leave, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families.
However, the benefits of providing paid parental leave, in addition to traditional maternity leave,have been shown to span across both economic and social variables. The White House Council of Economic Advisers reported last year that workers are more likely to return to their jobs after childbirth if given paid leave. As Jackson pointed out, the financial and time costs of retaining employees are weighed favorably against those of hiring, training and establishing a good rapport with replacement employees. One global study, spanning across 141 countries, associated 10 weeks of paid leave with about a 10 percent mortality reduction.
“Our city is made up of families,” Jackson said. “If we’re not supporting them then, really, what are we doing on a day-to-day basis?”
However, there is a potential downside. A broad parental leave initiative may come with hidden costs.
In Sweden, new parents are entitled to 480 days of leave, and for 390 of those days, they receive 80 percent of their paycheck, according to Public Radio International. A very long period of paid family or sick leave can increase the gender pay gap because it means that women will be out of the workforce for a year or sometimes longer. Because of this, the Swedish labor market is one of the most sex-segregated in the world, as women cluster in public sector jobs structured around the assumption of interrupted work schedules and part-time employment.
Whether Boston’s labor market ends up like Sweden’s will depend largely on the degree to which men take advantage of their parental leave time. If men utilize it to the same degree that women have in traditional gender roles, this may not become an issue.
During the meeting, the ordinance opened other child care-related discussions. While voicing his support, Councilor Charles Yancey, District Four, took the opportunity to propose companion legislation that would enable state employees to spend more time with their children in school. Councilor At-LargeAyanna Pressley mentioned the lack of child care equipment available in the majority of men’s bathrooms, enforcing the traditional delegation of parenting responsibilities to mothers.
Pressley also attributed the parental leave initiative to the strengthening of female presence in Boston politics. Before theCity Council meeting, a ceremony was held to honor the women who served the council over the years.
“When men and women work together, the best collaboration happens, and this is evidence of that,” Pressley said, referencing a statement made by former councilor Diane Modica at that ceremony. “It is possible to be an attentive parent and productive employee… [Workers] shouldn’t have to choose between the job that they need and the family that they love.”
Walsh, who backed the move earlier this year for the state’s former Maternity Leave Act to become the more inclusive Parental Leave Act, announced his support as well and has agreed to sign the ordinance into law on April 7.
Photo courtesy Anthony Easton, Creative Commons