Family Leave Laws Enacted In 10 Cities And States In 2013

Ten cities and states have passed laws guaranteeing access to some kind of family leave this year, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. NPR's Jennifer Ludden speaks with director Vicki Shabo about efforts to make family leave mandatory.

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JENNIFER LUDDEN, HOST:

This month, NPR's been looking at some of the numbers that bring 2013 into focus. Today, the number 10. That's how many cities and states have passed laws guaranteeing access to some kind of family leave this year, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. That group's long championed such leave policies. And joining us now to talk about such trends is Vicki Shabo, the partnership's director of work and family programs. Welcome.

VICKI SHABO: Thank you, Jennifer. It's so great to be here.

LUDDEN: So, explain this number 10. What laws have these various states and cities passed?

SHABO: This year, as you said, 10 cities and states have passed paid sick days or family leave or expansions to family leave laws. New York City put in place a paid sick days law which covers every worker in the city, guarantees more than one million access to paid sick time and the rest access to unpaid sick time. That means you can't lose your job if you're sick or a family member is sick or needs medical care. Portland and Jersey City did the same things. Then Rhode Island, most significantly, became the third state in the country to have a family leave insurance program in place. Which means that workers there would be able to take time when a new child joins the family or when a family member is seriously ill.

LUDDEN: This seems really counterintuitive. I mean, our economy is still weak. We still have many Americans unemployed. A lot of people have been losing benefits over the past few years. Why do you think this is happening now?

SHABO: The states have always been laboratories for innovation. So, before the Family and Medical Leave Act passed, for example, in 1993, there were 23 states that had already put family leave laws in place. The same trend is happening here. States and cities are recognizing a need. They're recognizing that families need income. Given all of the changes in the workforce and the dual demands of caregiving and breadwinning - and politicians are increasingly seeing that this is an issue that's winning for them. This was a winning issue for Dan Malloy in Connecticut in 2011; this was a winning issue for Bill de Blasio in 2013 in New York City. And as we move towards 2014, it is in elected officials' interest to look at these policies as something that's good for workers, good for businesses and good for their communities.

LUDDEN: Now, chambers of commerce and business groups have been among the most vocal opponents. And you can certainly understand. At a time of a bad economy - if you're a business owner - and suddenly someone can call in sick, you do have more costs associated with these leave policies. Isn't this a burden at a really bad time?

SHABO: Actually, we can tell from the data from San Francisco, which put the nation's first paid sick days law in place in 2006, from D.C., which has had a paid sick days law on the books since 2008, from Seattle, which implemented paid sick days in 2011 and from Connecticut, that actually businesses don't suffer when paid sick days are in effect and that the very jobs that you would expect to retract because of paid sick days burdens are actually growing in numbers in all of those places. So, this idea that what's good for workers is bad for business actually turns out not to be true if you look at the evidence. And it's very much in businesses' interests to make sure that workers can take the time they need and come back to work without getting their co-workers sick, while they're being more productive and where they can take care of themselves and their families without worrying.

LUDDEN: Are there other states or cities that you see gearing up to maybe pass leave policies in the next year?

SHABO: Yes. Massachusetts will be considering paid sick days both in the legislature, and if that doesn't work, it will go to the ballot. Cities like Newark are poised to pass paid sick days very early in the year. There are campaigns going on in Tacoma, in Vermont and really across the country. So, I think that this is an issue that is one to watch as we move towards 2014.

LUDDEN: Vicki Shabo is director of work and family programs at the National Partnership for Women and Families. Thank you so much.

SHABO: Thank you, Jennifer. Happy New Year.

LUDDEN: And you too. And we would like to know what number tells your story this year. Online, use the hashtag NPRNOTY.

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