With time running out in this year’s legislative session, workers urged lawmakers to make permanent a policy that provides up to six weeks of paid parental leave for state employees who have babies or adopt children. The policy is currently in effect, but set to expire in June if the Legislature does not act.
Proponents say the policy is needed for the state to be able to compete for workers with other family-friendly workplaces. They also say it results in healthier families and more productive employees. Yet the bill adopting a paid parental leave policy is not scheduled for a hearing in either house of the Legislature before Friday’s committee deadline.
At a news conference Tuesday, young Sawyer snoozed in the arms of his mother, Blair Sevcik, as she made the case for paid parental leave. An epidemiologist with the state Department of Health, Sevcik was able to take paid leave when Sawyer was born in January.
“This policy has been incredibly meaningful to my family’s financial and mental health,” she said. “It has allowed me to spend this short window of time focusing on our new baby, bond with him, recover from childbirth, protect him from childcare center germs and establish a good breastfeeding relationship.”
Most childcare facilities will not accept infants younger than six weeks of age, creating a dilemma for parents who don’t have access to paid leave and can’t afford to work without pay.
David Jensen, an emergency management coordinator in the Department of Human Services, would like access to paid leave so that he can help his wife when she gives birth to their second child this summer.
“Family-friendly policies are going to be even more important for the next generation of workers,” he said.
The turnover rate among women of childbearing age in state government is twice that of the private sector – meaning qualified workers are leaving for jobs in workplaces that offer benefits such as paid parental leave. Companies such as 3M, Target, General Mills and the Mayo Clinic, and local governments such as the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, offer paid parental leave.
Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan, and Sen. Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, authors of the legislation, said recruiting and retaining good employees is one reason to support the leave policy. Another is that polls show 76 percent of Minnesotans believe it is the right thing to do.
“This is something that Minnesotans support and something that Americans support,” said Halverson.
“Despite research showing paid parental leave policies help build healthier families and more productive workers, the United States remains the only industrialized nation that doesn’t have a national paid parental leave policy,” said Chet Jorgenson, president of MAPE, the Minnesota Association of Professional Employees, the union that spearheaded implementation of the leave policy.
“Enacting paid parental leave legislation is a great opportunity for the state of Minnesota to become a family-friendly employer.”
Last year, Governor Mark Dayton approved a memorandum of understanding with unions that allowed state employees to take up to six weeks of paid parental leave starting July 1, 2016. But the policy expires June 30 unless the Legislature makes it permanent.
The policy affects appx. 500 employees out of the 35,000-member state workforce every year, MAPE said. Departments and agencies absorb the cost in the same way they deal with paid sick leave.
Kent said she hoped the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate would realize the leave is “a cost-effective benefit” and “not use this legislation as a political trade-off.”
The Minnesota Legislature convened Jan. 3 with an agenda including the state budget and longstanding issues such as transportation and health care.