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"Too many new parents face an impossible choice: taking care of their child or getting their paycheck," NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday. (Photo: Jens Bergander/flickr/cc)

Leading by Example, NYC to Drastically Expand Paid Parental Leave Policy

New policy will cover maternity, paternity, adoption, and foster care leave

Deirdre Fulton

Adding to the growing list of private companies and U.S. municipalities who don't make parents choose between paying the bills or bonding with their newborn babies, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Tuesday that starting in January, an estimated 20,000 city workers will be eligible for six weeks paid paternal leave.

The policy will apply to new mothers and fathers, along with workers who adopt a child or accept one into foster care.

"Too many new parents face an impossible choice: taking care of their child or getting their paycheck," de Blasio said. "New York City is leading by example, putting us at the forefront of paid parental leave policies around the country."

According to public radio station WNYC, which first broke the news:

To cover the $15 million cost, all non-union employees will see their vacation time reduced by two days, from 27 to 25. The city will also take back a small portion of a multi-year raise that would have taken effect in July 2017 to pay for the extra leave.

The policy does not apply to the city’s 300,000 union employees. But the mayor said the benefit can be added to their contracts through collective bargaining.

"I remember after Chiara was born, just our economic reality was that Chirlane had to go back to work very quickly," de Blasio told WNYC, referring to his daughter and wife. "She has always felt a tension over that. She didn’t feel good about not being able to spend more time with Chiara."

In response to the mayor's announcement, New Yorker Amber Scorah—who, along with her husband, has been campaigning for paid leave since her son died on his first day of daycare—told Gothamist that while six weeks is a "commendable step," the new guidelines could go much farther.

"All progress forward on this issue is a relief to me, but the narrow segment of the population who will receive this, along with the extremely short duration of leave it guarantees, illustrates the gaping need for the United States to change its outdated policies and pass a national parental leave system that works for all families," she said. "We are so far behind."

Indeed, it's a borderline crisis in the U.S., which is one of just two developed nations to offer no paid maternity leave to working women.

A United Nations working group recently declared it was "shocked" by the lack of workplace accommodation for pregnant women and post-natal mothers in the U.S., pointing out that such provisions are required by international human rights law. And a Pew Research Center study released last week showed that a full 62 percent of parents say it's hard to find affordable and quality child care in their community.

While an increasing number of private companies, like Netflix, PayPal, and Microsoft, have taken steps to expand benefits and time off for working parents, the public sector has been slower to adopt such policies. At this point, only Austin and Pittsburgh offer six weeks paid leave.

Speaking to WNYC, longtime feminist and New Yorker Gloria Steinem said de Blasio's move "sends the message that we might barely begin to catch up with other advanced democracies in the world that have long since offered such policies. We are way behind."

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