Although California was the first state in the nation to adopt a paid family leave program in 2004, this policy does not currently apply to City of Santa Monica employees and Councilmember Kristin McCowan would like to see that changed.

In a February City Council meeting, Councilmember McCowan brought forward a request that the City Manager’s office provide City Council with information related to the implementation of a paid parental leave policy for City staff in time for the Fiscal Year 22-23 exception based budget. After a brief discussion the proposal was unanimously supported by Council.

“When we talk about staff retention and things during this sort of employment resignation that we’re seeing, I think that it’s important that we have modern policies in place and this isn’t one that I believe should be left to labor negotiations,” said McCowan. “I do believe to some extent this should be afforded to all employees in the same way that it’s afforded to all other employees in other sectors in the state of California.”

Workers in California are eligible for paid family leave benefits from the state if they need to take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member, bond with a new child or because they are unable to work in the last weeks of their pregnancy. Payments can be received for up to eight weeks and are equivalent to about 60 to 70 percent of weekly wages.

McCowan said she wanted to bring this issue to attention in part because of her experience being a civic employee for the federal government in Washington D.C. and for the City of Los Angeles and not receiving pay for the time she took off related to her two pregnancies. Since then a paid parental leave policy has been introduced in both agencies.

“Because many cities and their employees don’t pay into the state coffers in the same way because we have separate programs, when the state implemented a paid family leave policy that doesn’t apply to our staff,” said McCowan. “It (paid parental leave) got introduced in the City of Los Angeles and I was sad to see that we didn’t have something similar here.”

In February 2021, Los Angeles City Council approved six weeks of fully paid time off for new parents. This pilot program is currently available to civilian employees and there are plans to extend it to fire and police sworn personnel if the pilot is deemed successful.

Councilmember Christine Parra was supportive of the proposal and cited her experience and struggle when she did not qualify for paid family leave.

“I worked for a city and first pregnancy I was civil service and I had leave pay, second pregnancy I was management and I didn’t realize under management I didn’t have paid leave. And so for three months I had no pay and it really affected me because I still had to pay for childcare for my first child, and now I have three months without pay. And so I wholeheartedly support this, so thank you for bringing it up,” said Parra.

The cost and scope of the City’s potential paid parental leave policy will be explored by staff and brought back to Council in time for the FY 22-23 budget. Councilmember McCowan’s motion intends for such a policy, if approved, to take effect during FY 22-23.

Clara@smdp.com