DC considering 16 weeks of paid family leave; businesses protest

- The D.C. Council has introduced a controversial bill that would allow 16 weeks of paid family leave, the most time of anywhere in the country.

President Barack Obama has made paid family leave a big part of his second term. The administration has been trying to get this benefit to workers by going around Congress and straight to cities and states. D.C.’s proposal is the most generous for employees, but is a new tax on employers.

A room of supporters cheered when the city council moved forward this bill. If passed, it will be the first of its kind in the nation -- a level of benefit that is only seen in Europe.

"The Obama administration has funded research grants across the country, including here in D.C.,” said Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large). “It’s jumpstarted our efforts to make these systems a reality.”

Any worker, full or part-time, would get four months of full pay for various family events.

“Why don’t we create a system so that you can actually take that time off to be with your newborn child or to be with your elderly parent, in a way that is meaningful and that will bring you back to the job site feeling fulfilled,” said Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large).

The benefit is paid for by the employer -- a tax of up to one percent of the employee’s salary.

The lead sponsors of the bill argue that this is actually good for business.

“I actually think it will make us more competitive because what we’ll be able to do is keep high quality employees,” Grosso said. “We’ll be able to attract employees to come here and live.”

“When workers struggle to balance caregiving and the need for a paycheck, their bosses and co-workers feel it too,” said Silverman.

But the D.C. Chamber of Commerce sent a letter in opposition to the bill saying it is “unprecedented” in the country and will make D.C.’s businesses “dangerously uncompetitive.”

“This overburdens Washington D.C. businesses,” said Harry Wingo, president and CEO of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. “We support having happy workers and people being able to take care of their families, but to do so in a way that goes far beyond anything that has been done anywhere else in the country and definitely anywhere else in this region is going to hurt business.”

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) said the hearing will be before the Committee of the Whole in the next few months. They are hoping to try to get business support of the new fund and tax, but as of now, they have the votes to pass it anyway.

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