The United States is one of two countries worldwide that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave to new mothers according to Vicki Shabo, Vice President of the National Partnership for Women & Families. This statistic is from the International Labor Organization who surveyed 185 countries.
That’s why Councilwoman Natalia Rudiak has introduced legislation calling for at least six weeks of full-paid family leave for City of Pittsburgh employees.
The legislation applies to parents of any gender as well as those who choose to adopt or foster children.
“Without this legislation, city employees must use unpaid leave as part of the 20-year-old Family Medical Leave Act – but only after exhausting all earned sick and vacation time,” Rudiak said. “Yet for many families, unpaid leave is a luxury and not an option.”
She is referring to federal legislation passed in 1993, which enables eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of leave to care for a baby.
However, that leave is unpaid, something that Susan Frietsche, senior staff attorney for the Women’s Law Project, said is a huge issue.
“Most families cannot go for 12 weeks without getting paid, and imagine how much more compelling that is when it’s not just you and your husband, but you have a new baby as well,” Frietsche said. “That is exactly the wrong time to go without a paycheck.”
But Shabo said most parents are not eligible for leave under the FMLA.
“Although the Family and Medical Leave Act has been used more than a hundred million times by working people to care for a new child, a seriously ill loved one or their own serious health conditions, about 60 million people are not covered by the law because smaller employers are not bound by it, and employees who work part time or are newer to their jobs are not covered by it,” she said.
While those opposed to paid family leave argue that it’s too expensive, Tara Simmons, Vice President of the Women and Girls Foundation, said the country is already paying for it every time an employee quits a job.
“The Society for Human Resources Management has quantified that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it could six to nine months’ salary on average” Simmons said.
Rudiak highlighted studies showing that paid parental leave helps reduce infant mortality and shorten hospital stays as well as leading to higher IQs and educational attainment.
Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner on Wednesday released a statement in support of Rudiak's legislation, and urged county leaders to accept a similar policy.
"I am proud that Pittsburgh and Allegheny County’s female elected leaders are prioritizing these policies, and applaud Councilwoman Rudiak for taking this step to make this necessary change," Wagner said.