New York Times San Francisco bureau chief Thomas Fuller embraced a major shift toward European-style social policy in that city in his Wednesday report, “No Pay Cuts for New Parents in San Francisco – City Becomes the First in the Country to Approve Six Weeks of Fully Paid Leave.” As shown by that headline, the Times got really excited about the local liberal ordinance, with a full story on the front of the National section, including two large photos with parents and cute toddlers. (Conservative legislation protecting religious freedom wasn’t welcomed with the same enthusiasm.)
The paper clearly saw the socialist-style measure as an indisputable good thing, and Fuller himself questioned on Twitter why it took so long for America to get with the program of becoming more like European social democracies:
A first for the USA: San Francisco has just approved six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents (The rest of the world rolls their eyes.)
Fuller’s report followed the gushing tone of the headline.
San Francisco on Tuesday became the first city in the United States to approve six weeks of fully paid leave for new parents -- mothers and fathers, including same-sex couples, who either bear or adopt a child.
California is already one of only a few states that offer paid parental leave, with workers receiving 55 percent of their pay for six weeks, paid for by employee-financed public disability insurance. The new law in San Francisco, passed unanimously by the city’s Board of Supervisors, mandates full pay, with the 45 percent difference being paid by employers.
The new law will make San Francisco’s policy far broader than that of New York City, which has also expanded its parental leave policy. In December, Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York ordered that 20,000 nonunionized workers be given six weeks of fully paid parental leave, but that amounts to a sliver of the total municipal work force of around 300,000.
A single paragraph toyed with the opposition view, which admittedly was muted in ultra-liberal San Francisco.
Except for a group of small-business owners, the ordinance here had wide support. The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce said that while it favored expanded parental leave benefits, there was a “strong belief among many business owners that once again, to the financial detriment of small businesses, a mandate is being adopted in San Francisco that would be better dealt with at the state or federal level.” In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, the chamber declared itself “neutral” on the issue.
Scott Wiener, the supervisor who introduced the measure, said that San Francisco lawmakers had chosen to take up the issue partly because there was little hope of change at the national level.
Julia Parish, 33, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society who is eight and a half months pregnant, said the measure would be particularly helpful to lower-income residents who do not work for companies with generous benefits. “We are ahead of the curve in California, but globally, we are way behind,” she said. “It’s shameful.”
Indeed, by global standards, the San Francisco ordinance is a modest step. The United States is one of two countries out of 185 listed by the International Labor Organization that do not have a national law providing some form of paid parental leave. (The other is Papua New Guinea.)
The parental leave measure is one of several pro-worker initiatives emerging from California. Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law Monday that would progressively raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. Separately, the leader of California’s Senate is pushing to offer tax-free retirement savings plans for the 7.5 million workers in California who do not have employer-provided retirement plans.
Is it still a “pro-worker initiative” if it prices potential workers out of the market, like a minimum wage will? Fuller at least got the liberal label correct.
At a time of great divisions at the national level, amplified by the bitterness of the presidential election campaign, California’s Democratic leaders say they see an opening to push hard on liberal issues inside the state.
Gavin Newsom, the state’s lieutenant governor, said the country’s divisions were making action by the states more urgent and necessary.
Chris Lehane, a former Democratic Party operative who was hired by Airbnb last year as head of global policy and public affairs, said that the gridlock in Washington had created an opening for California, and especially the state’s Democrats, to act.
“It’s a political branding opportunity,” he said. “While others fiddle and diddle, California moves.”
Fuller liked that line from the liberal LeHane so much he tweeted it out, uncredited:
Parental leave, minimum wage at $15 "While others fiddle and diddle, California moves.”
So many readers wrote in enthusiastically about the change that the Times held a little online symposium to praise it further, with Fuller joined by Jodi Kantor and labor reporter Noam Scheiber.
Kantor relayed the thoughts of her various sources about the issue, suggesting she doesn’t know any conservative economists:
Here’s a mashup of what I used to hear, as a reporter and parent, about the prospects for ever having state-mandated parental leave in the United States:
Paid family leave may be desperately needed, but it’s a political pipe dream. Democrats are unwilling to fight for it. The business world will never go for it. The United States just has terminally shoddy parental leave policies. (Cue dirgelike music and new parents giving longing glances to countries like Sweden, which grants 480 days of paid leave.)
Fuller gave readers two options on how to respond to San Francisco’s parental leave law, as either good or not good enough. “It’s a bad idea” was not an option in liberal Timesland:
Readers, can you tell us how this model will benefit you, or would have benefited you had it existed in the past? Is it enough or do you want more?