Kshama Sawant argues that her city council colleagues should join her in passing an expansion of paid parental leave.
Kshama Sawant argues that her city council colleagues should join her in passing an expansion of paid parental leave. Kelly O

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Dear Colleagues,

This Monday, November 23, we will have a second chance to vote on a budget amendment that would expand paid parental leave for City of Seattle employees from 4 to 12 weeks for a year, at a cost in the 2016 budget of only $1.5 million. I hope you will join me in seizing this opportunity to provide a critical benefit for newborns and their parents. In doing so, we can help establish the political momentum to extend this benefit to all workers in Seattle next year.

The value to parents and newborns of providing generous paid parental leave is well-understood and uncontroversial. Research has consistently shown that providing paid parental leave leads to better health for newborns, better educational outcomes for kids, more equitable access to the workforce and higher incomes for women, greater participation in parenting by fathers, and lower occurrences of domestic violence. It is a gender equity issue, an educational issue, and a social justice issue.

Nicole Grant, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the M.L King County Labor Council, testified to the City Council last week: “Not only does paid parental leave help buy groceries and pay rent, it saves families an upwards of $2,000 a month that they would have spent on childcare for their infant.”

The global standard for paid parental leave is a minimum of 12 weeks, and in many countries it is significantly more: Canada provides 35 weeks for workers, for example, and Norway mandates 70. Earlier this month, Amazon announced it was expanding parental leave to up to 20 weeks for new mothers. The City Council's unanimous passage earlier this year of a 4-week benefit was an important step forward, but still inadequate.

Councilmembers wondered if we should wait to see the impact of 4-weeks leave. But research is so decisive that there is no reason to delay expanding it to 12 weeks. As gender equity advocate Morgan Beach wrote in The Stranger Slog last week, “Gender equity cannot and should not continue to be sidelined because we think we’re doing well enough..."

With an unexpected windfall of millions of dollars in the 2016 budget, the City Council is able to set aside funds for a year of 12-weeks leave for City workers. I have no doubt that over the next year we will be able to develop a permanent funding mechanism.

The positive benefits these children will receive by expanding this benefit now, at a relatively modest cost of $1.5 million per year, should not be forced to wait for another budget cycle.

I thank Councilmembers Licata, O'Brien, and Bagshaw for voting yes last week. And I urge all my colleagues to join me in giving children the best possible chance of developing and prospering. Please vote on Monday to expand paid parental leave for city employees to 12 weeks.

Sincerely

Councilmember Kshama Sawant