It’s time Seattle faces the fact that we wave our progressive flag far and wide and don’t live up to those standards when it comes to certain policies. Exhibit A: paid parental leave. We allow ourselves to be persuaded that it will hurt, it will be hard, it will ruin our city. But gender equity cannot and should not continue to be sidelined because we think we’re doing well enough and the pain isn’t worth it.
The City of Seattle has allowed paid parental leave to be sidelined as a community and, more specific to what I’m writing about today, as an employer. Earlier this year, after bargaining with the more than 70 unions that represent the city workforce under the leadership of Councilmember Godden, the city council unanimously passed an unprecedented four weeks of paid parental leave for nearly all city employees.
But let’s ask ourselves: when the minimum global standard for paid parental leave is twelve weeks, why did the city as an employer opt for four weeks?
Twelve weeks is even a low bar compared to some global paid parental leave policies—our neighbors to the north, Canada, give 35 paid weeks and 70 paid weeks are given in Norway.* From the largest to the smallest (and tastiest) private employers in town, many workers have access to paid parental leave. Those employers and employees know it's good policy.
But the majority of workers are left without access to this benefit that so many companies, advocacy organizations and policymakers worldwide know 1) improves infant and maternal health, 2) builds the best, healthiest families and workers, and 3)increases employee retention and a business’ bottom line. Even the Seattle Chamber of Commerce recommends that to create the most gender equitable workplace an employer should offer paid parental leave (right there, on page 9) and a number of other workplace benefits.
We should not remain an outlier on the wrong side of history by failing to give our city employees access to a minimum of twelve weeks of paid parental leave.
The city is the best steward of your tax dollars when it is the most fair and equitable employer in town. It is run best when it attracts the best and brightest workers and can retain them because they have access to the policies that allow them to work hard and take care of themselves and their families.
Seattle City Council members and Mayor Murray: You have an opportunity to remedy this right now during the budget process.
Expand the city’s current four weeks of paid parental leave to twelve for all employees who have worked for the city for at least six months. Provide an infant at work policy for workers with infants zero to six months of age. Zero to six months is a critical period for infant development and lacking adequate time and flexibility (for things like breastfeeding or finding full-day infant care) to take care of a new infant is one of the most consistently cited barriers for women's full access to the workforce. We will hold you accountable for your votes against women and families.
And we believe as a community in the right to a living wage, access to paid sick and safe time, and prosecuting wage theft. These policies are already law in our city. Laws with teeth, funding and passionate people behind them to enforce them. It is time to add paid parental leave to these laws.
In addition: we should not just to give this basic benefit to city employees but also build a system to provide access to paid parental leave for every worker in the city of Seattle. As Vox writer Emily Crockett said and I would have put it myself, “Lacking paid leave puts a huge burden on new parents. It hurts women's overall ability to participate in the workforce, prevents fathers from being equal partners in child rearing, and has devastating effects on women's health and ability to parent.”
There are a minimum of three viable funding options (an employee head tax, a B&O tax, or an employer/employee contribution system) without touching another property tax to fund paid parental leave for all workers in this city. Research indicates universal access to paid family leave translates to better educational outcomes for kids, more equitable access to the workforce, higher incomes for women, and lower occurrences of domestic violence. This policy is worth it. Let's get to work.
(*Think Ballardites will be behind this now that they know that Norway is?)
Morgan is a women’s rights activist, recent candidate for Seattle City Council District 3 and Chair of the Economic Opportunities Committee on the Seattle Women’s Commission.