by Melanie Piana, Ferndale City Council
I’ve watched my friends, women and men, prepare for a new baby with joy and excitement, and also concern about how much time they would have to bond and physically heal before heading back to work. Like many women in the workforce, my friends scraped together their paid time off with the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows them to take up to 12 weeks unpaid without fear of losing their job. In many instances, my female friends returned to work 4 to 6 weeks or less after giving birth, while their mates took off only a handful of days.
Who can afford to take unpaid days when a new baby or child arrives? It’s the worst possible time not to earn a paycheck: diapers, baby food and child care all cost money. As a result, people are forced to accrue personal debt just so they can adequately tend to such a significant life-changing event.
Although my husband and I do not have children, my friends’ choices about what is right for them typically equate to not enough time to heal, bond with the baby, and readjust to life’s new routines. For cities, the general policy for maternity leave is determined by how much paid time off an employee can accrue. Based on years employed, the time off expected and allowed for maternity leave is unequally taken between males and females. Women take more, whereas men take less.
The private sector knows that flexible work environments are essential to achieving work-life balance, promoting female leadership, and increasing gender equality. Tech giants such as Google, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon understand that paid parental leave increases options for women and families, and these types of benefits are highly sought by the next generation of workers.
Cities should be centers for talent attraction and cultivation, too. Who are the best stewards of taxpayer dollars? I argue that it’s talented people who innovate and solve complex and ingrained problems. Striking the right balance to provide taxpayer value and providing the right mix of benefits to attract workers is just as important in the public as the private sector.
Why this policy now?
We saw a need for a local government to become a more friendly workplace, to offer balance for families, and to show that our city cares about families and how policies can make a difference in a community.
Historically, talented workers were attracted to the benefits offered by cities even though the pay was typically a bit lower than the private sector. Now that most government entities share the same benefit packages of the private companies (401K / no pension), we need to be more aggressive in recruiting quality employees. Currently, the City requires that all leave related to pregnancy come from the employee; for those employees that don’t have enough vacation and sick saved up either would need to come back early or take their leave unpaid.
The City’s new policy will now provide up to 12 weeks paid time off for maternity, paternity, and adoption care leave — six weeks of new parental leave plus up to six weeks matched hour to hour paid time off. I encouraged Ferndale’s City Council to take this action.
The basic protections of the FMLA are not enough to establish a strong workforce in today’s competitive talent attraction and retention environment. Flexible work environments provide employees better opportunities to balance life circumstances. Ferndale focuses on teamwork, improve work-life balance, and increase employee productivity.
The municipal financial crisis necessitated Ferndale review how it delivers services and manages internal operations. Yes, we provide the same services, but City Council and City administration dissected how we delivered those services, and then figured out a way to improve quality and lower or maintain cost. As a result of continuous improvement and strategic investments, the city’s internal culture began to change, too. City Hall is not just a nine-to-five operation, especially with 24-hour access to online services.
With an eye toward a more flexible work environment, Ferndale’s paid family leave policy should employee turnover, job satisfaction, and overall productivity. It positions City administration to attract and retain talent to leadership positions. The new policy preserves working mothers’ income, thereby reducing economic disparities for women who are forced to choose between time at home with the baby or a paycheck and contributes to closing the gender wage gap between men and women. Ferndale is known for acceptance and promotion of diversity. The new policy reinforces our strong community-wide commitment to diversity, acceptance, and progress.
I’m ecstatic that City Council unanimously approved this new policy, and I look forward to strengthening our support of women and families.
I express gratitude to our City Manager, April Lynch, and Jenny Campos, Human Resource Director at the City of Ferndale, for working closely with me to develop a policy that works for everyone.