Mayor, Council propose citywide workforce equity plan including new leave benefits for City employees

Proposal adds 4 weeks of paid parental leave and 4 weeks of paid family leave

Mayor Edward Murray and Seattle City Council members today proposed a joint comprehensive Action Plan to promote greater workforce equity, including actions to improve equity in hiring and promotion and career development, as well as broadening existing parental leave policy and increasing current family care benefits for City employees.

The proposal is based on recommendations in the Workforce Equity Strategic Plan developed by the Seattle Department of Human Resources at the direction of Mayor Murray and Seattle City Council. It is meant to reduce barriers to employment at the City of Seattle by establishing workforce equity best practices and ensuring equal access to employee benefits, training and career development opportunities.

“The City of Seattle is committed to being a model employer, and we are committed to reducing barriers to opportunity wherever we find them,” said Murray. “Our proposal today represents the most comprehensive effort on the part of the City to promote greater workplace equity. We are taking steps to improve equity in access to City employment for potential new hires, and in the career development of our existing employees. And, we want to ensure that all City employees can afford to be there when their families need them the most, whether it’s welcoming a new child into the family or caring for an ailing family member.”

After receiving extensive input from City employees through surveys and listening sessions, Murray and the City Council issued a Workforce Equity Action Plan recommending a number of foundational policies or “platform strategies” to improve workforce equity, including implementing citywide training on unbiased employment practices, continuing the adoption of citywide performance management systems and standards through E3 (Equity, Engagement, Expectations), consolidating and standardizing City human resource services, developing accountability practices on workforce equity and inclusive workplace standards, and improving the tracking of workforce demographic metrics.

These foundational policies form the equitable basis for new workforce investments, Murray said.

In 2015, the City of Seattle created a four-week paid parental leave benefit, to which the proposal announced today would add an additional four weeks. When combined with projected amounts of leave used by City employees who are new parents, the City’s proposal would provide, on average, 96 percent of City employees welcoming a new child with at least twelve weeks of paid leave available for parental leave (eight weeks of paid parental leave plus at least four weeks of accrued leave). The average new-parent City employee would be eligible for sixteen weeks of paid leave available for parental leave (eight weeks of paid parental leave plus an average of eight weeks of accrued leave).

The additional paid parental leave benefit is projected to cost $1.7 million annually.

In addition, all City employees will be guaranteed four weeks of paid leave to care for an ill family member. Using a model based on federal data, 99 percent of City employees would have their family-care time needs met under this proposal. This data estimated that approximately eight percent of the City workforce, or roughly 900 employees, will experience a qualifying family condition, with nearly two-thirds requiring at most two weeks’ leave. Under this proposal, the average City employee would be eligible for up to fourteen weeks of paid time off to care for an ill family member (four weeks of guaranteed family care leave plus an average of ten weeks of accrued leave).

Extending paid family leave beyond just parental leave is a matter of equity, Murray said, since family-care obligations often fall to women and particularly women of color.

“These new policies will put Seattle on the leading edge of progressive employment practices in America, a nation that is sadly one of only three in the world that does not offer paid parental leave,” said Councilmember Lorena González, Chair of the Gender Equity, Safe Communities and New Americans Committee, which will hear the recommendations next week. “I hope that local businesses take note of our policies and see that paid family leave is an essential part of a healthy, productive workforce.”

“A 2014 White House study shows that employers who provide paid parental and family leave as well as sick and vacation time have employees who are more productive, more efficient, happier in their work and do higher quality work,” said Councilmember Debora Juarez. “Given that City employees are stewards of Seattle we can’t settle for anything less.”

Studies from around the world have shown paid family leave is critical for the mental, physical, and economic health of new parents and children. As a parent of three young kids I’ve experienced the difficulties of going back to work when you don’t feel ready, first-hand,” said Councilmember Rob Johnson. “That’s why I’m so excited about the expansion of our City’s paid family leave program, which provides nearly all City employees with 12 weeks to care for a new child. This will allow new families the time they need to adjust to their new lives and forge vital new connections.  We hope that Seattle’s national leadership will prompt action by local governments and private businesses around the country.”

“I look forward to working on this legislation to ensure that parents working for the City of Seattle can spend adequate time with a new child,” said Councilmember Lisa Herbold. “However, the most stark inequities in our workforce exist outside of City Hall; there are many parents in Seattle that do not receive any paid leave at all to care for a new child.”

“Our commitment and investment to support all children must be our priority,” said Council President Bruce Harrell. “This is an inclusive proposal to improve our current paid parental leave policy with our employees, further advance labor equity for all Seattleites, and raise the bar with our private employers. We can all say we want all children to be put on a pathway to opportunity and success and with the investments that we have made for our 3 and 4 year olds in the Seattle Preschool Program, this is part of our vanguard to support all kids from birth to college.”

“We are stronger when our employees have time to nurture their children, care for a loved one, or bond with their newborn or newly adopted child,” said Councilmember Sally Bagshaw. “Cared-for families make for a cared-for City, which makes this one of the most common sense proposals I’ve ever considered.”

“This approach to providing an average of 12 weeks of leave looked thoughtfully at the gap in our leave policies and found the most efficient way to fill it,” said Councilmember Tim Burgess. “It provides a valued benefit to employees while stewarding taxpayer resources wisely.”

“This proposal is a tremendous benefit for City employees who experience a family event that requires them to take time off and focus on what’s most important,” said Murray. “But it also benefits all employees by helping to ensure a fairer, more equitable and more secure workplace where employees are best able to serve the communities of Seattle. This is not only the right thing to do, it also supports and improves the delivery of City services.”

 

The City’s proposal is meant to fill the void in progressive workplace leave polices at the national level. A 2014 study by the International Labor Organization found that the United States is among only two other countries – Lesotho and Papua New Guinea – that do not guarantee some form of paid parental leave. The Washington Legislature passed a paid family leave law in 2006, yet it has not been implemented due to a lack of a dedicated funding source.

The complete workforce equity action plan proposal will be sponsored by Councilmember González and co-sponsored by Councilmembers Bagshaw, Burgess, Harrell, Herbold, Johnson and Juarez. It is expected to be considered by the City Council by August.

Any actions related to extending paid leave are subject to negotiations with the City’s labor partners.

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