Liveblogging the Marketplace of Ideas: Paid Family Leave
Welcome to the live blog of the Drum Major Institute’s Marketplace of Ideas series! Today, we’re hosting New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine for a discussion of New Jersey’s Paid Family Leave Act.
The forum complements our last Marketplace of Ideas discussion of San Francisco’s paid sick leave ordinance with Sarah Flocks of Young Workers United. Sarah talked about rallying worker support for the paid sick leave initiative and convincing the city’s restaurant industry that the ordinance would not harm business.
Governor Corzine will discuss legislation passed in May that grants all New Jersey workers up to six weeks of paid leave a year. The legislation will enable employees to take time off from work to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child or a sick family member. Employees on leave will receive two thirds of their weekly pay, financed through a 64-cent a week payroll tax on all employees and administered through the state’s Temporary Disability Insurance system. The law will go into effect in 2009, making New Jersey only the third state nationwide to guarantee paid family leave.
Though the federal Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows workers at companies with more than 50 employees to take up to 12 weeks off work to care for a family member, the legislation only provides for unpaid leave. An editorial in the New York Times earlier this year explained the New Jersey legislation and pointed out that 169 countries offer mothers paid maternity leave, 66 offer fathers paternity leave, 39 provide leave to workers to care for sick children, and 23 offer paid leave for the care of other family members.
Panelists include Donna Dolan, Chair of the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition; M. Patricia Smith, Commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor; Ana L. Oliveira, President and CEO of the New York Women’s Foundation; and Dan Cantor, Executive Director of the Working Families Party. DMI’s Executive Director Andrea Batista Schlesinger will moderate.
[Ed. Note: See below for resources on paid family leave.]
Donna Dolan provides a short introduction, expressing her great pleasure to participate in a forum about “one of her passions”, paid family leave.
Ms. Dolan describes that more and more households depend on two incomes. 2/3 of America’s households have all adults in the workforce. 1 in 5 adults report caregiving responsibilities. Governor Corzine, involved in a serious car accident that kept him from work, should understand the importance of paid leave.
Ms. Dolan describes the Family and Medical Leave Act, but notes the limitations imposed by unpaid leave. Many families simply afford to take time off work to care for their family members.
The U.S. is in the company of Papua New Guinea in not providing paid family leave.
The paid family leave policy is widely popular, according to DMI’s recent poll, and improves worker productivity.
In New York, a bill was introduced in the Senate to take up paid family leave. No further action was taken.
Ms. Dolan describes that Gov. Corzine noted when signing NJ’s paid family leave act the importance of his family’s support in helping him recover from serious injuries he sustained in a recent auto accident.
Gov. Corzine begins his speech.
The governor explains that you get paid family leave passed by “people with passion”. His experience with serious injuries has shown him the importance of familial support in times of need. The “personal experience” has given him more drive.
“Passion actually made the difference,” with enormous grassroots support. AFL-CIO, Citizen Action, New Jersey Public Policy perspective, and other advocacy groups all assisted with the legislation’s passage.
Gov. Corzine warns that business will push back. But, as a “washed up businessman”, he tells us not to believe the warnings of dire consequences from the Chamber of Commerce.
“We had to cut” the paid sick leave period to 6 weeks and workers can only get two thirds of pay when they are on leave. These compromises are “the foundation” on which better legislation can be built. “This was not an easy lift,” the Governor says, noting that the State Senate debated the measure for 12 years.
“This is something that needs to be on the agenda of the next president.”
"I thought I heard [paid leave mentioned] in Barack Obama's acceptance speech."
“This is not a heavy lift on a financial basis,” the Governor says, describing that the weekly tax increase is really not that significant.
“I worry that we may have somewhat underestimated the usage [of paid family leave].” California had about 1% usage, but the Governor implies that NJ might have more.
"If we put billions of dollars into protecting financial firms, I think we can put 67 cents a week into protecting our families."
Governor Corzine describes that passage of the legislation almost certainly requires the NYS Senate to be Democratic. A divided legislature would make passage nearly impossible.
Andrea begins the panel discussion and asks whether Gov. Corzine was able to refute the arguments of business.
The Governor replies that small business was not won over by the advocacy community’s arguments (big business was more accommodating). “There was plenty of fire in the [business] community.”
“There were virtually no arguments that were working with them,” the Governor says. The burden, though, is just not there with only 1% of the working population taking advantage of the legislation.
“You have to work around the small business community.”
Andrea introduces Dan Cantor of the Working Families Party.
She asks who is in favor of paid family leave and who is against it.
Dan responds that paid family leave demonstrates the divisions in Albany: those against government intervention and those for it. The private market will “never” provide paid family leave.
“The Assembly seems solid” on paid family leave, Dan explains, but some compromise might be necessary.
Andrea introduces Patricia Smith of the NYS Department of Labor and asks what the federal role is in paid family insurance.
Ultimately, Commissioner Smith notes, federal paid family leave would be ideal. But states can be role models for the federal government: “I think it is easier to begin at the state level where there is the infrastructure” of temporary disability insurance. The Commissioner explains that all NYS employers must provide temporary disability insurance, though the amount has not increased in recent years.
Paid family leave would, in effect, increase the types of “leave insurance” available to workers.
Dan asks the Governor why strong opposition exists and Governor Corzine responds that the small business community argues that it is already “taking care of” its workers.
The opposition, according to Governor Corzine, is driven more by organizations of business groups, like Chambers of Commerce, rather than individual small business employers.
The Governor, responding to a previous comment of Commissioner Smith, believes paid family leave should be a federal program.
These programs are necessary because “most people are on paycheck away from” disaster.
Andrea introduces Ana Oliveira of the New York Women’s Foundation and asks why paid family leave isn’t more than a fuzzy mention if women’s issues are so important in the presidential campaign.
Ms. Oliveira notes that caretaking services are not valued in our society. Women representing a voting bloc does not necessarily translate into a discussion of women’s issues.
“Women carry a disproportionate burden…We should take the opportunity of women’s votes…in this election to raise the bar of discussion.” Paid family leave is very important.
It is “weird” for this country to make “such a big deal” about the institution of paid family leave. The economic return is enormous, Ms. Oliveira emphasizes.
Ms. Oliveira asks what the cost is of not having paid family leave.
Governor Corzine says that “this is not an identifiable issue in the public’s mind…not a point of debate.” But he believes that it is a missed opportunity not to make this an issue of family values.
Paid family leave needs to be highlighted as a positive social policy.
Another question from Andrea: Is it strategic for us to make this a woman’s issue or does it need to be cast more broadly? Andrea notes that the vice presidential candidate’s husband is the primary caregiver.
Commissioner Smith thinks that we must make leave a family values issue. “For every woman taking leave, there is some man connected…” When we talk about families in the United States, there is a large disconnect between them and business – they should be talked about in concert.
Ms. Oliveira emphasizes that lots of broader issues are women’s issues. Parenting can be exercised by many, not just the mother. There is room in this conversation to address the diversity of household composition.
Dan thinks that tactically paid family leave should be a women’s issue, at least in this campaign (“we just want to crush these people”): women are a higher percentage of the voting bloc and you want to make this issue come alive.
Andrea asks whether it is fair to say that there would not be a negative effect on small businesses?
Governor Corzine notes that 35% of the NJ workforce is in small business (50 employees and under). “This [issue of a negative effect] is logically ridiculous”: if someone needs to take off work to take care of loved ones, they are going to do it. If this is going to happen anyway, why would we not want someone to pay for the insurance, for the replacement of wages? This argument is “inconsistent”. Family members not showing up to take care of loved ones “just doesn’t happen”. We’re creating a situation in which this makes economic sense.
We ought to talk about this issue as family values, but the fact is that women are going to relate to this issue before men. [The Governor departs.]
Commissioner Smith disagrees with Gov. Corzine (“now that he has departed”). The Commissioner thinks that there are some cases in which the law will encourage people to take care of family members who otherwise would not have. “To give businesses their due, we can’t say there won’t be any consequences.” But we need to think about return on investment.
[Andrea opens the discussion to audience questions.]
A gentleman from the New York Society for Ethical Culture believes that paid family leave should be made an issue in the election campaign.
Commissioner Smith says that the Spitzer and Patterson administrations have made paid family leave a primary issue. Some progress was made last year, but the State Senate would not compromise without a carve out for businesses less than 50 people.
Dan believes that Patterson has been good on this issue and he is hopeful for next year. “One can imagine raising the salience of this issue.”
A gentleman relates a personal experience: federal employees can put two hours of their vacation time into a pool for other's leave. He offers this as an alternative.
Commissioner Smith notes that NYS has a similar program. But such programs work for employers with lots of employees, but not for small employers. It is a priority of NYS to provide paid family leave for all employees.
Ms. Oliveira thinks that it is a minimum for the government to provide [such things as paid family leave] for its families and workers. Paid family leave involves a statement on the value of lives and on the value of work.
Dan thinks that the pool idea is a good one, but a tax to pay for paid family leave would be a signal of social insurance, of social support for families.
A representative of 1199 SEUI wonders about the appropriate period of paid leave.
Commissioner Smith notes that the original proposal was 12 weeks. By cutting it to 6 weeks, the cost would not decrease significantly, but there was much less opposition, so the Patterson proposal cut down the period to 6 weeks.
Dan thinks it “preposterous” to cut the period down: the Working Families Party wants to keep the period at 12 weeks.
Andrea notes that it will be much harder to increase the period to 12 weeks if several states compromise for the 6-week period.
A questioner believes that “wellness” leave is a more appropriate way to think about paid family leave.
Andrea follows up by asking to what extent paid family leave legislation continues to emphasize families, as opposed to singles?
Commissioner Smith admits that paid family leave does not address very well the unique concerns of singles.
A gentleman from Democracy for New York City asks what safeguards are in the New York bill to prevent abuse of paid leave.
Commissioner Smith says that you can be required to bring in a doctor’s note. The safeguards are in place already with NYS's temporary disability insurance program.
Andrea wonders if foundations talk about offering their own employees paid family leave. Are we modeling our talk?
Ms. Oliveira notes that non-profits are still small businesses and not uniquely protected. From a small-business perspective, survival is hard. Beyond the tax status granted to non-profits, there are few benefits provided to them by the government. Pooling insurance among non-profits would be beneficial. In general, it is a “big deal” for non-profits to model providing benefits like paid family leave. “This type of inverse approach can really help the sector” to propel “the walk the talk” approach.
Dan notes that the Working Families Party provides 8 weeks of paid family leave. He encourages all present to volunteer time to the Working Families Party's campaign for paid family leave legislation.
Andrea asks representatives from NJ to describe what could have done been done better in the NJ campaign.
One representative says that calling paid family leave paid family insurance is more effective (agreeing with an earlier comment made by Governor Corzine). She notes that the campaign in NJ was great, but “we compromised too much with ourselves”. More in the original law for employers to fight against would have been better.
Another representative believes that emphasizing that the legislation is not only about caregiving for newborns is important (states with temporary disability insurance already provide paid leave for mothers who have recently given birth, though this leave is not available to fathers or other caretakers).
Andrea asks what could be added to the initial version of a family leave policy to protect against compromises that would significantly water down the legislation.
Dan recommends mandating that employers pay for the paid family leave or at least share the costs with employees.
Commissioner Smith recommends indexing the paid leave benefit (to inflation, the consumer price index, etc.), so that the benefit would increase periodically.
Andrea wonders how likely indexing and increasing the benefit available is.
Commissioner Smith believes indexing is a very heavy lift.
A representative of the New York City Bar Association asks about the interaction between paid sick days and temporary disability insurance. Is paid sick day legislation necessary?
Temporary disability insurance is underused, according to Commissioner Smith. Paid sick days are a heavy lift.
Dan says that paid sick days are much more expensive and would be a heavy lift (Mayor Bloomberg opposes it), but notes that it is possible to legislate paid sick days in New York City because it does not require State enabling legislation.
Andrea asks if there is a priority [among policies like paid sick days and paid family leave].
Dan responds that paid family leave will have a cascading effect, including nationally, as the minimum wage did as it was adopted by more and more states.
Donna Dolan provides resources for those who wish to become involved in the campaign for paid sick leave and paid family leave [see below].
A questioner wonders how paid family leave is part of a larger architecture: how does this legislation create an opportunity for more progressive legislation and advocacy.
Dan recommends emphasizing the stresses on the family-work relationship. Even if paid family leave is not part a larger architecture, winning paid family leave would make peoples live better – sometimes you just have to do what is right.
Andrea thinks that paid family leave would allow progressive organizations to point to a concrete success. “[Paid family leave is] a concrete manifestation of the values of the progressive movement…and the differences between the left and the right.” The legislation would provide a platform for progressive values.
A representative from Better Balance and the New York State Paid Family leave Coalition wonders if we are missing an opportunity to talk about paid family leave. She believes the fight has been “inside Albany” and that the public really does not know about the campaign for paid family leave. What can we do to put more resources to making the issue more visible?
Commissioner Smith says the Governor is solid on paid family leave, but does not think that this is “on message” for the Governor this year because he is focused on fiscal responsibility.
Ms. Oliveira believes her organization is in a good position to support Better Balance. But there are still insufficient funds for the kind of investment necessary. Policy change, Ms. Oliveira says, is invaluable, but its value is not acknowledge enough.
Ms. Oliveira says that the benefits offered to employees in the philanthropic community are often better than those offered in the non-philanthropic community.
Dan believes that the work of organizations like DMI is done on the issue of paid family leave, while community organizing is now necessary. We need to find a champion. Quoting Richard Nixon, Dan emphasizes the importance of repeating the importance of issues we care about: “Just when you’re tired of saying something, they’re [the politicians] are hearing it for the first time.”
Andrea wraps up the discussion with a final question: is paid family leave going to happen in New York?
Commissioner Smith believes we are close.
Ms. Oliveira also expresses optimism, but notes that even after legislation passes, the work is not necessarily done.
Dan responds: "Who knows? But we will find out."
With that, Andrea thanks the panelists and the session concludes.
New York State's paid family leave legislation, introduced 6/2007
Press Coverage of Marketplace of Ideas: New Jersey's Paid Family Leave Act
"Corzine Calls for Paid Family Leave in New York," The New York Times' Stephen Greenhouse
"Progressive Family Values: Making Paid Family Leave a Priority," GRITtv with Laura Flanders
"Opening the Day: A Financial System Meltdown...WHEEEEEEE!" OpenLeft's Matt Stoller