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L.A. plan would guarantee 18 weeks of parental leave

L.A. plan would guarantee 18 weeks of parental leave
Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, seen in November, proposed the parental leave measure with Councilman David Ryu. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

New and soon-to-be parents working for Los Angeles businesses would be guaranteed up to 18 weeks of paid leave — at as much as 100% of their usual wages — under a new proposal at City Hall.

City Councilwoman Nury Martinez and Councilman David Ryu, who introduced the plan Tuesday, argued that it would support family bonding and help businesses retain employees.

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“Paid parental leave is good for families. It’s good for business. And it’s good for Los Angeles,” Ryu told reporters, adding, “Parents should not have to choose between paying the bills and raising a family.”

Many details remain to be hammered out by city staffers, including whether small businesses and nonprofit organizations would be exempt from the requirement and whether the city would help offset the costs for companies. But the fledgling proposal could significantly bolster the paid leave that new and soon-to-be parents would be guaranteed in the city.

California is ahead of much of the country in providing paid leave for new parents, offering eligible employees 60% to 70% of their previous pay for up to six weeks. That time is paid for out of a payroll tax deducted from employee paychecks.

But only a fraction of California parents who are eligible end up taking that time off, and poorer workers have been less likely to do so. Martinez said Tuesday that existing state and federal programs “often cater to white-collar economies while leaving out the low-wage workers and people of color.”

California also provides disability benefits for pregnant and postpartum mothers, which can increase the amount of partially paid time off for parents by up to 12 weeks. That brings the time off that many California workers can potentially take to 18 weeks at 60% to 70% of their pay, Ryu said Tuesday.

Under the new proposal, L.A. employers would have to make sure that their workers get up to 18 weeks of paid time off around the birth, fostering or adoption of a child, at as much as 100% of their pay. Employers would have to make up the difference between any existing state benefits the workers receive and their normal wages.

“This would be a huge step forward for working families and help them make meaningful the promise of paid family leave from the state,” said Julia Parish, senior staff attorney with the nonprofit Legal Aid at Work, which advocated for a similar ordinance to boost pay during parental leave in San Francisco.

Although parents would be eligible for up to 100% of their previous pay, the draft proposal says that the city would cap the total compensation received by eligible workers, limiting the maximum to the annual cost of living for a parent and child in Los Angeles. A Ryu aide estimated the current amount around $65,000, citing an analysis from the California Budget and Policy Center.

Employees would be eligible if they worked inside Los Angeles city limits for companies that meet specific requirements, including withholding a percentage of worker earnings for State Disability Insurance Tax payments, Martinez and Ryu said in a policy brief detailing their proposal.

The Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., which advocates for San Fernando Valley businesses, called the plan “an extremely expensive one-size-fits-all parental leave policy” and complained that it “places the burden squarely on employers, many of whom will be unable to pay.”

“By mandating one particular vision of parental leave — 18 weeks of subsidized, fully paid leave — this motion leaves employers and their parent employees no financial wiggle room to work out a solution that works for their individual circumstances,” the group’s legislative affairs director, Elizabeth Hawley, said in a statement Tuesday.

Hawley added that the group feared “unintended consequences of such a well-intended but potential misguided policy,” such as companies moving out of Los Angeles.

Beacon Economics founding partner Christopher Thornberg, who has analyzed previous city proposals to boost wages, said that if L.A. leaders want businesses to shoulder new costs, “they should offer some sort of cost relief to the company.”

Backers of paid parental leave counter that studies of existing programs in California and San Francisco have shown benefits for employers, including reduced turnover among workers and improved productivity. Martinez and Ryu suggested that the requirement could be phased in over three years, with the biggest businesses affected first.

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Their motion asks for city attorneys and staffers to report back on options for a Paid Parental Leave Ordinance, analyze its potential effects on small businesses and how the city could mitigate them, and come up with a timeline and framework for implementation and enforcement.

Ryu and Martinez said they hoped for a vote on a new law by the end of the year. Mayor Eric Garcetti voiced early support for the idea Tuesday, applauding the two council members for “leading the way.”

Paid leave for parents has gained growing attention among political leaders in California and beyond: Earlier this month, Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed expanding the California’s paid parental leave program from six weeks to six months.

His current budget proposal calls for a task force to consider how to phase in the expansion, as well as how to increase participation in the program.

Beyond California, a “record number of states” have introduced bills in the last legislative session to create programs or expand access to paid parental leave, said Vicki Shabo, vice president for workplace policies and strategies for the National Partnership for Women & Families, which advocates for family leave.

And “at the federal level, we’re seeing more and more conversation” not only among Democrats, but across party lines, Shabo said.

The new proposal is the latest move by Los Angeles leaders aimed at helping workers. L.A. has been boosting its minimum wage to $15 an hour, a decision backed by the council four years ago over the objections of some business groups. Council members have also boosted the number of paid sick days that workers can earn, putting the city requirement at double the state minimum.

Times staff writer Melody Gutierrez contributed to this report.

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