Passed in 2002 and implemented in 2004, California’s Paid Family Leave Act, PFLA, provides unemployment disability compensation to employees who take time off from work to “care for a seriously ill child, spouse, parent, domestic partner or bond with a newborn baby, adopted or foster.”
But although awareness has increased over the years, research in 2011 by the California Field Poll showed less than 45 percent of workers in our state have adequate knowledge of the program. In Los Angeles County, the largest metropolitan area in the state, workers have an awareness of less than 35 percent. For those with “lower household incomes and limited education,” the figure is below 30 percent.
Among aware respondents, less than 14 percent of women and 7 percent of men had taken advantage of PFLA. The Milkman/Appelbaum report “Leaves that Pay” summarizes the reasons why survey respondents who were aware of the program did not apply for paid family leave: One-third said the wage replacement was insufficient and one-third feared making their employer “unhappy.” Twenty-four percent were “afraid of being fired.”
We need to strategize. What can be done to educate the state work force and to encourage employees to use this hard-fought-for benefit?
The statewide California Work and Family Coalition, made up of labor and community activist organizations, spearheaded the movement to pass the PFLA and is now leading the effort to increase usage and advocate for additional legislation. Two bills have been proposed in the California state Senate to advance the implementation of the law: SB 761 and SB 770. The former will prevent retaliation for use or attempted use of the California PFLA. The latter will expand the definition of family to include grandparents, grandchildren, siblings or parents-in-law.
Consideration of SB 761 has been extended for another year, but SB 770 has passed the state Senate and will be voted on by the state Assembly. It is expected to reach the governor’s desk this month.
Public-private partnerships are one idea being considered to reach unaware employees. Los Angeles needs the greatest outreach and education and is the likely region to be targeted for such an effort.
The passage of the California PFLA makes the case for ongoing feminist advocacy, but follow up and evaluation is critical for legislation affecting our lives.
Paid family leave first became an issue for me during my years as a single parent. Like many women, through the experience of trying to raise two children, find a job and ensure quality child care for my daughters, I understand how difficult it is to balance the needs of a family with the demands of the workplace. When we pass good legislation in this arena we can’t stop there. We must see it through.