Calif. lawmaker pushing for 100 percent paid family leave

A package of legislation championed to provide a basic level of support for working women passed the state Assembly this week: The bills would prevent sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace and make paid family leave within reach of more women.   

“The workplace remains an unfair playing field for women in California,” said Assemblywoman by California State Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), chair of the Select Committee on Women in the Workplace. “Forced arbitration agreements and the threat of retaliation have allowed toxic workplaces to thrive. Meanwhile, working women are unable to access paid leave when they decide to start a family. We as lawmakers can do more.”

The Paid Family Leave bill, AB 196,  passed 66-7 on Thursday and now heads to the Senate.

As it stands now, paid leave provides those who take off work to care for a family member at 60 percent of their base wages for up to six weeks for those above poverty level and 70 percent for those who are at poverty level or below. The maximum weekly benefit was $1,216 in 2018. 

Gonzalez’s bill expands paid leave benefits to 100 percent to help ensure financial security for many working families who cannot afford to take unpaid or partially-paid leave. According to her office, California also would be the first in the country to guarantee full income replacement if the bill is signed into law and the first to extend paid time off to six months.

“Workers who need to use family leave absolutely deserve more time off, but first they deserve to be able to take that time off,” she said previously. “Many working class Californians aren’t able to use our paid family leave program because they can’t afford to receive only a portion of their paycheck. A worker shouldn’t have to choose between meeting their household budget and taking necessary time off during critical moments in life.”

Supporters contend that increasing the wage replacement rate will enable more low-income workers to use their benefits, according to the legislative analyst’s office. The program's current wage replacement rates require workers to accept a 30 percent to 40 percent reduction in pay to take time off to care for a new child or sick family member. Families living paycheck to paycheck cannot afford the loss of income. Supporters also note the beneficial mental, emotional, and health outcomes for children when with the mothers taking extended paid family leave. 

Opponents note that the bill imposes higher state disability contributions on all workers to pay for benefits claimed by only 17 percent of workers, the legislative analyst’s office said. Opponents further have voiced concern that the increased cost of benefits endangers the solvency of the disability fund.

A May 2016 Associated Press poll also found that 72 percent of Americans support paid family leave programs.

In 2002, California became the first state in the U.S. to adopt a paid family leave program. The program went into effect in 2004.

According to the Assembly Appropriations Committee, increasing the wage replacement level will result in a projected increase of approximately $350 million in 2020 and $850 million in 2024. 

This story was reported from Oakland, Calif.