Victory For New Parents: San Francisco Approves 6-Week Paid Maternity Leave

San Francisco becomes the first U.S. city to provide fully paid leave for new mothers and fathers, pushing family health higher up on the agenda.

Credit: Jim Wilson, New York Times

Credit: Jim Wilson, New York Times

On Wednesday, San Francisco earned the title as the first U.S. city to require businesses to provide fully paid leave for new parents. The new measure, unanimously approved by the Board of Supervisors, stipulates that both mothers and fathers will receive six weeks of complete pay, including adoptive parents. Companies with more than 20 employees will be required to provide paid leave and the provision is expected to take effect as soon as next year.

As momentum accelerates nationwide for a push towards better workplace policies that support families, high-profile firms like Netflix, Spotify, and, most recently, Twitter, have expanded paid-leave time for new parents up to 20 weeks off; news of these changes have been well-received among new parents.

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener, who backed the legislation, stated that “lower-paid, private-sector workers just get screwed. They either have no access to paid leave or they can’t afford to take leave.” He continued on to express how these conditions undermine the health of both the individual and the family during an extremely stressful time, and how no parent should have to choose whether to bond with their new child or put food on the table.

Currently, the federal law states that most employers must offer at least 12 weeks of leave; however, it is not required to be paid leave. Some states have taken measures or are planning to implement partial pay coverage for leave time, though workers’ rights activists continue to push for complete pay. The District may soon replace San Francisco as leading city in generosity, as members are discussing legislation that provides 16 weeks of paid leave, funded through new employee taxation.

Supporters believe that this measure will help combat inequality, as low-wage workers are often among the least likely to have access to any paid time off. According to executive director of Family Values at Work, Ellen Bravo, parents who lack savings can easily slip into poverty without access to paid leave. “Even middle-class families who have some cushion – that can all be wiped out with one unexpected pregnancy,” she continued. “You have mothers whose babies are still in hospitals. They go to work and wait for the call. They’re wondering, ‘Will my baby be okay?’”

Some, however, have voiced their concerns about the detriment this measure may provide on the economy. For example, small business owners may suffer as this type of payment hurts their bottom lines. Dee Dee Workman, vice president of public policy at the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce stated, “They don’t necessarily have the resources, they can’t absorb the increases in cost, and they feel like it’s kind of relentless, it’s one thing after the next,” which she warns could in turn threaten the local economy. “They might have to move out of the city,” she continued.

Though these drawbacks must be taken into consideration as this law plays out, the benefit to new mothers and their families is undeniable. According to research conducted by economists at the University of California and Columbia University, increasing hours and income of mothers over time can increase the ties a woman feels to her workplace, thus encouraging continued participation in the labor force. The benefit, as the economists stated, could lead to the “retention of specific human capital”, thus no longer cutting new or struggling mothers out of the work force.

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