California’s Democratic governor credits his wife and chief of staff for making paid family leave a priority in recent budget negotiations.
California led the nation when, in 2004, it became the first state to give private-sector workers six weeks off with partial pay to care for a new baby or sick family member. But unlike other states that followed, California never required that many employers guarantee workers their jobs back after taking paid family leave — leading millions of Californians to pay into a system they could get fired for using.
That would change under legislation moving through the Capitol, which would ensure more workers’ jobs are protected if they take paid family leave. With many businesses lobbying against such guarantees, similar proposals have failed in the past. This time, however, the idea has a powerful champion: Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is building on a vow he made last year to expand California’s family leave program.
“I believe that our nation, our state is unbalanced in terms of caring for our workforce and caring for families,” Newsom said last week when asked why he’s pushing to expand job protections over the objections of businesses, already reeling from the pandemic-induced recession.
“So often it’s the case that people are not attending to the needs of their family members, which is impacting society in a very deep way. There’s no substitute for caregiving, for outstanding parenting.”
Current law extends job protection to workers who take leave to care for a sick family member if their company has at least 50 employees, and to workers bonding with a new baby if their company has at least 20 employees. A bill Newsom is backing expands those protections to more workers by applying them to companies of at least five employees.
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As they raise four young children, Newsom and his wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, have pushed what they call a “parents’ agenda” for the state that includes expanding child care and repealing the tax on diapers, in addition to a more robust paid family leave program. The Democratic governor credited his wife, whose work as a filmmaker focuses on gender equality, and his chief of staff, Ann O’Leary, for his decision to make paid family leave a priority during recent budget negotiations. O’Leary — who was a policy advisor to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign — has researched family leave systems for many years. Newsom has said she made expanding the program in California a condition of taking the job with him, citing “her resolve to do more, particularly for working mothers, but also across the spectrum for workers generally.”
And so, for the second year in a row, Newsom has used the process of negotiating a state budget to broaden family leave benefits for Californians. Last year’s budget gave workers an additional two weeks of family leave, bringing it to eight weeks. This year’s budget agreement calls for passing a new law to guarantee workers the right to come back to their jobs after taking family leave.
It would put California in line with most states that offer paid family leave — five of which guarantee workers their jobs back, according to A Better Balance legal center.