Sacramento Bee: Family Leave Expansion Bill Sparks Clashes

Jun 24, 2015

By Dan Walters

Two efforts to expand paid and unpaid “family leave” for California workers – a major cause for the Legislature’s Women’s Caucus – generated sharp clashes Wednesday among powerful interest groups, but both survived committee votes.

One of the clashes was a surprise to members of the Senate Labor and Industrial Relations Committee – a late-blooming and rare division among labor unions.

Assembly Bill 908 would increase paid family leave payments on a sliding scale for up to 10 weeks, with the aim of making them more meaningful to low-wage workers. The 13-year-old program now pays up to six weeks of benefits to workers who take leave to care for ill children and relatives. Payments come from the Disability Insurance Fund, which is totally financed by a payroll tax on workers, just under 1 percent of wages up to $108,160.

AB 908, carried by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, D-Los Angeles, a former labor union official, has been supported by a wide array of unions, and anti-poverty, social service and women’s advocacy groups. With no listed opposition, it sailed through the Assembly on a 60-17 bipartisan vote.

On Wednesday, however, the California Labor Federation and other unions that had been silent on the bill declared their opposition in the Senate committee.

CLF lobbyist Angie Wei complained to the senators that raising benefits for family leave recipients while leaving them untouched for those who cannot work due to illness is unfair. Plus, she said, data indicate that the benefits are more commonly used by higher-income workers but will lead to a big tax increase that will be paid by all payroll employees. “How much are we going to pay? Wei asked, rhetorically.

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