The city of Austin might soon be the first city in Texas to offer paid leave to employees who become new parents.
A proposal from Council Member Bill Spelman would allow most of the city’s 12,000 employees — including same-sex partners — to take 30 days of paid time off at their full salaries after the birth or adoption of a child. The change would cost the city an estimated $321,000 a year.
Employees would first have to use up their paid vacation and sick time before tapping into paid parental leave.
A federal law, the Family and Medical Leave Act, guarantees employees job protection and up to 12 weeks off, unpaid, after the birth or adoption of a child. Employers decide whether to offer any paid time off during that 12-week period.
Spelman’s plan, which the City Council will consider Thursday, also calls for creating a “leave bank” of unused sick and vacation time that employees citywide could voluntarily contribute to. Employees could then use that time to take paid leave for reasons other than having a baby, such as caring for an ill family member. It hasn’t been decided if the time in the bank would carry over from year to year.
The new programs wouldn’t apply to Austin police officers or firefighters, whose pay and benefits will be spelled out in separate contracts they are currently negotiating with the city.
Spelman said paid parental leave would benefit the city as well as its employees.
“It’s good for the long-term health of a family for mothers and fathers to spend time with a newborn child or a newly adopted child,” he told the American-Statesman. “And the reason so many (private companies) have begun providing paid family leave is that it’s good for their bottom line. It’s easier to recruit and retain employees, and when they come back to work, they are more productive because they are not worrying that they should have spent more time with their children.”
Mayor Lee Leffingwell and Council Member Mike Martinez are co-sponsoring the proposal.
The city’s Human Resources Department estimates it would cost $262,000 a year to offer paid parental leave, plus cost $59,000 a year to hire temporary workers to fill some of those positions.
It bases the estimates on the 59 non-public-safety employees who added a dependent — usually a new child — to their health care plans in 2012.
Don Zimmerman of the political action committee Travis County Taxpayers Union, which advocates against tax increases, said the idea will be too costly.
“I’m not convinced with the spending levels (the city) has now that it could afford to offer 30-day leaves,” he said.
Michael Quinn Sullivan, president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility, also opposed the idea.
“When you start offering this kind of highly lucrative superbenefit to all employees, that’s expensive for the taxpayer,” Sullivan said. “Just because a private company offers these benefits doesn’t mean a government should. We’ve gotten in the bad habit of comparing government to business. Government is not a business.”
If approved by the council, the city would begin offering the paid parental leave and leave-bank programs on Oct. 1, the start of the city’s fiscal year.
“I think this will engender a lot of loyalty on the part of city employees toward the (city), and go a long way towards developing good morale among employees,” said Greg Powell, business manager for AFSCME Local 1624, the largest union representing non-public-safety employees at the city.
Austin city employees can currently take off up to 12 weeks for maternity or paternity leave. That time is unpaid, unless employees draw from their paid vacation time or paid sick time. Mothers can also use short-term disability benefits to take two to four weeks of additional time off, at 70 percent of their pay.
Several companies, including Bank of America, IBM and Texas Instruments, and a handful of states and cities — New Jersey, California, Chicago, and San Francisco — offer some form of paid parental leave, according to research by Spelman’s policy aides.
Travis County doesn’t offer paid parental leave, but it lets employees use sick time or vacation time to take paid time off after the birth or adoption of a child.
About the proposal
$321,000 a year
Non-public-safety city employees