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How All New Yorkers Benefit When Municipal Workers Get Paid Parental Leave

Amy Traub

Now that’s a holiday gift! On Tuesday, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that approximately 20,000 employees of New York City would be guaranteed paid parental leave—giving mothers and fathers critical time off to bond with a new baby, adoptee, or foster child without giving up a paycheck.  

Although paid leave for new parents is the standard worldwide, the United States guarantees zero paid time off for mothers or fathers. As a result, nearly 1 in 4 employed U.S. mothers return to work within two weeks of childbirth, according to research from former Demos fellow Sharon Lerner. This puts the health of parents and their babies at risk and weakens family economic stability. As I’ve argued before, a lack of paid leave also undermines women’s equality.

The mayor’s executive order will give municipal workers six weeks of paid leave at their full salaries, which can be combined with existing sick and vacation leave to provide up to 12 weeks of paid leave. And while the mayor cannot unilaterally change employment terms for New York’s 300,000 unionized employees, the city expressed willingness to start immediate talks with municipal unions about adding paid family leave for their members. City unions have responded that they are indeed interested.

Thanks to Mayor de Blasio’s leadership, employees of New York City can look forward to happier, healthier, and more economically secure times as they welcome new little ones in 2016 and beyond.

But it’s not just municipal employees who stand to benefit.

When President Obama took executive action this year to extend paid leave for federal workers, he argued that it would “help achieve the goals of recruiting and retaining talent, lowering costly worker turnover, increasing employee engagement, boosting employee morale, and ensuring a diverse and inclusive workforce.” A growing number of high-profile tech employers, from Netflix to Facebook to PayPal are expanding their paid leave policies with same aim. There is no reason New York City could not reap similar gains from the family-friendly policy.

At the same time, all New Yorkers—and all Americans—will benefit if New York City’s bold action inspires more momentum for change at the state and national level. Legislation to expand paid leave for all working people is pending in Congress, as well as in a number of states, including New York.  By extending paid leave to city workers, Mayor de Blasio could be putting this critical benefit a step closer for all of us.