Nury Martinez

Councilwoman Nury Martinez seeks support of national family paid leave act. (Catherine Saillant / February 5, 2014)

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday gave its backing to a proposed federal law that would for the first time provide paid family leave for up to 12 weeks.

Acting at the urging of Councilwoman Nury Martinez, and after a personal appeal by Amy Elaine Wakeland, wife of Mayor Eric Garcetti, the council voted unanimously to back the Family and Medical Insurance Leave Act, introduced by House Democrats.

"Families are more important in the lives of children than any of our other social institutions,'' Wakeland said in her first testimony at the council since her husband took office in July. "So thank you all for the supporting that notion and this federal legislation today, which I figure is a no-brainer for every single one of you."

Federal law permits workers to take up to 12 weeks off of work for family or medical leave, but the leave is unpaid. Under the new legislation, workers would qualify for 66% of monthly wages while on leave.

The program would be self-funded through payroll deductions, similar to California's family paid leave law adopted in 2002. At a morning news conference Martinez and former state Sen. Sheila Kuehl, the California law's author, stated their support for the federal version.

Martinez cited a state study that found more than a third of workers who are entitled to paid family leave fear retaliation by employers if they take the time off. That has to change, she said.

Martinez said she suffered from postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter five years ago and her husband, a state worker, took paid leave to help out.

"He spent time making sure that we were OK and that we were safe,'' she said. "Not a lot of people had the same fortune as I did, and not a lot of people know about this law." 

Martinez also wants the city to place posters in libraries and other city buildings describing the state family leave program so more workers understand their rights.

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