The D.C. Council hearing room was full to the rafters last Thursday night as over 150 people came to voice support for a bill that would provide city workers with 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave. They claim that they would be forced to choose between their jobs and their families’ health without the legislation.
Comments from advocates of the legislation came from Patricia Harrell who said, “There are a lot of single-parent families in the District, so paid family leave would make a really big difference for parents like me.”
However they were several business owners and business advocates who attended the hearing to express their disapproval of the new legislation, as it would be funded by a 1 percent payroll tax to businesses.
One such dissenter was Kathy Hollinger, president of the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, “Because the true cost of program is unknown, so is the true cost to businesses. Restaurants are the second-largest private employer in this District, and a 1 percent payroll tax is more significant than it sounds.”
The most vocal and most numerous voices came from the advocates of the new legislation. Comments were made by single mothers, social workers and advocates of minority groups, who all agreed that paid leave is an important economic and health issue.
“I don’t want people to have to choose between the family they love and the job they need,” said Melanie Campbell, president of the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation.
Campbell claimed that about 37 percent of D.C. families have a single woman as the sole breadwinner. She said those women need to be able to take care of their family or themselves when they get sick.
Not all business owners were against the new legislation. Roger Horowitz, owner of Pleasant Pops, which sells coffee and homemade ice pops, said he provides his employees with health benefits and a living wage. He said that those perks have helped him build a strong workforce and that being able to offer paid leave would make his business even more attractive.
“A small business is a family. I want to provide paid leave but I can’t afford to, but I would gladly pay the one percent tax.” Horowitz said.
Even though the 12-week proposal had been scaled back from 16 weeks, Mayor Muriel Bowser expressed doubts this week that she could support the new legislation.
At 12 weeks, it still would be the country’s most generous paid family leave policy. Other jurisdictions provide no more than six weeks of paid leave.
Although she backs paid maternity and paternity leave, Ms. Bowser said the proposal would allow “almost an unlimited number of occurrences” for workers to take paid leave for recovering from a medical condition or tending to an ill family member.
The Mayor has said that the council needs to show how a proposed 1 percent tax on workers’ wages would fund the plan.Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who cut the plan to 12 weeks on Monday, also reduced its maximum weekly benefit from $3,000 to $1,500 to make the plan more financially viable.