California Bill Would Protect New Parents at Work

Legislation extending protected paid family leave to smaller businesses, allowing parents to spend time caring for their new children without fearing for the security of their jobs, has cleared the state Senate in California and is now being heard by the State Assembly’s Labor Committee.

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Sponsored by Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), SB 63 would extend an existing mandate that employers to provide up to 12 weeks of protected paid leave for employees with newborn or newly adopted children to smaller businesses with between 20 and 50 employees. (Businesses with 50 or more employees are already required to comply.) The extended mandate would only affect 6.3 percent of businesses while benefitting 16 percent of California’s workforce—or 2.7 million Californians. Additionally, lawmakers in favor of the bill asserted that paid family leave time is linked with benefits such as lower infant mortality and a healthier workforce.

The legislation is an important step toward bringing California labor laws up to par with the needs of parents, especially single mothers and struggling two-income families. The United States lags behind 40 other nations by not mandating paid leave nationwide. California was the first state to require paid family leave in 2002. If SB 63 becomes law, it will become the third state to provide job protection to all workers, after Rhode Island and New York.

SB 63 is backed by almost 70 advocacy groups, including the California Legislative Women’s Caucus (LWC), which hailed the bill as a measure that would increase women’s equality in the workforce. As it stands, women earn only 78 cents for every dollar earned by white men. For women of color, the numbers are even lower: According to the LWC, Latinas earn 43 cents and African American women earn 63 cents for every white man’s dollar.

With these large gender pay gaps in mind, women—especially women of color—are often forced to choose between working and caring for their children. On a national level, although mothers make up the sole or primary breadwinners in 40 percent of families with children, only half of them take paid leave time to care for new children. Only 9 percent of workplaces offer paid leave for new fathers, and the chances of a worker of color being granted paid family leave are even slimmer. Of the parents with access to paid leave, many of them don’t take it out of fear that they will lose their jobs.

Mandating protected paid leave for all workers both helps mothers whose wages are the least stable and meets the needs of changing familial and gender norms. More fathers are staying at home to care for their children, and more mothers are joining the workforce as key breadwinners for their families—a change which benefits their daughters.

If the bill passes, California will take big strides toward improving the working conditions of millions of parents—an arena in which most states are falling short. Hopefully the rest of the nation will eventually follow suit.

About

Maddie Kim is a former Editorial Intern at Ms. studying English and creative writing at Stanford. Her poetry and prose have been recognized by the Norman Mailer Center, Princeton University, Sierra Nevada Review and Adroit Prizes. She is a prose reader for The Adroit Journal. When she’s not writing, she likes tap dancing and taking blurry photos of her dogs. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter.