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    Labor Battleground Turns to Family Leave

    San Francisco, N.Y. enact legislation for paid time off.

    NATIONAL REPORT — Over the past several years, the labor fight has been focused on raising the minimum wage. Now moves in New York state and San Francisco are putting the family leave debate front and center.

    On April 5, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a measure giving new parents six weeks of paid leave. The move made the northern California municipality the first city to pass a law guaranteeing new parents fully paid time off to care for a new child CNN Money reported.

    According to the report, California already has a state insurance program that pays workers 55 percent of their wages to take time off after the birth or adoption of a child, or to care for a sick family member. The San Francisco law requires employers to pay the balance of the employee's salary to bring the wages to 100 percent.

    San Francisco also took the state law a step further by making it illegal to fire an employee after taking parental leave. The San Francisco law takes effect Jan. 1, 2017 for companies with 50 or more employees.

    The law will be phased in for smaller employers so that by Jan. 1, 2018 it will cover all employers with at least 20 workers. Employers with fewer than 20 employees will be exempt from the law, CNN Money reported.

    San Francisco's legislation came one day after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a state budget that includes the most comprehensive paid family leave program in the nation. When fully phased- in, employees will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid family leave when caring for an infant, a family member with a serious health condition or to relieve family pressures when someone is called to active military service, according to the governor's office.

    Benefits will be phased-in beginning in 2018 at 50 percent of an employee's average weekly wage, capped to 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage, and fully implemented in 2021 at 67 percent of their average weekly wage, capped to 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage. 

    This program will be funded entirely through a nominal payroll deduction on employees so it will not cost businesses — both big and small — anything. Employees are eligible to participate after having worked for their employer for six months.

    The budget also increased the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour, also to be phased in over the next few years, as CSNews Online previously reported.

    "Bonding with a new child or caring for a seriously ill family member should not cost employees their entire savings or job. Statewide paid family leave will particularly benefit low-income workers who often lack benefits or job security, and for whom access to any leave, even unpaid, is often not available or cost prohibitive," the governor's office said in a release.

    "Paid family leave also has the potential to serve as a great equalizer for women. In many instances, women who leave the workforce to care for a newborn not only forfeit their existing salaries in the short-term, but also suffer diminished future earnings and career trajectories in the long term," the statement continued. "Establishing paid family leave marks a pivotal next step in the pursuit of equality and dignity in both the workplace and the home."

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