Last Mother’s Day, John Oliver noted the inconsistency between companies that market to customers based on the holiday but fail to offer their employees paid maternity leave. While continued efforts are needed to require companies to offer paid maternity leave, more attention needs to be paid to the leave policies of American cities.
Many city employees around the country don’t receive any paid parental leave. New York City, for example, does not offer paid maternity or paternity leave to its employees, and for those employees who have worked for the city less than a year, the city is not obligated to keep their job open during unpaid leave.
Government employment practices often lead the way for the private sector. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order prohibiting discrimination by defense contractors and President Truman famously signed an executive order to desegregate the United States Army. More recently, President Obama has signed several executive orders to affect employment practices at government contractors in an effort to narrow the gender wage gap and protect LGBT employees from discrimination.
It is important that our local governments provide parental leave. Pushing companies to offer essential benefits while our own governments refuse to can result in hypocrisy. For example, when Mayor DeBlasio pushed his “Contract for America”, some noted an incongruity:
When New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio rolls out his liberal response to the Contract with America today in Washington, his 13-point plan will call for a $15 minimum wage, universal pre-kindergarten programs — and paid family leave.
That left some New York City employees scratching their heads: The half a million people who work for the city don’t receive paid maternity or paternity leave through their own health plan.
Recently, some progress has been made. In March, Boston Mayor Martin Walsh announced that the city would offer six-weeks paid parental leave to men and women who have worked for the City for at least a year (although they only receive full pay for the first two weeks). In April, Seattle announced that city employees would receive four weeks of paid parental leave. One councilwoman expressed hope that it would ultimately be extended to 12 weeks. Minneapolis and Dayton approved paid parental leave this year as well.
These benefits are far from satisfactory, but they are a step in the right direction. Cities are large employers and directly accountable to citizens in a way that corporations are not. Therefore, as Americans continue to push for employers to adopt more humane policies, governments should be on our minds as ideal targets.