December 2, 2015 Leave a comment
D.C. Chamber, Board of Trade seek answers on paid leave proposal
Dec 2, 2015, 5:00am EST Updated: Dec 2, 2015, 8:20am EST
Joanne S. Lawton
Jim Dinegar, president and CEO of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, has serious concerns about the ramifications of a paid leave bill being considered by the D.C. Council.
Staff Reporter- Washington Business Journal
When D.C. Councilman David Grosso, I-At large, proposed the most generous paid leave law in the country to employees in October, a major selling point was the cost would be broadly spread to make the benefit affordable.
Missing so far from the conversation: Hard numbers that support the plan.
"We keep hearing the bill itself was based on some study. That study still hasn’t been shared with us," said Harry Wingo, president of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, which is opposing the legislation that will be discussed at a public hearing Wednesday.
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Among the major sticking points for the D.C. Chamber is the concern that the District hasn’t adequately examined what problem the legislation is trying to solve, Wingo said.
In October, Grosso introduced a bill that would extend up to 16 weeks of paid leave to employees throughout the District for major life events. The bill would require all nonfederal employers to pay into a city-managed fund to cover employee leave during qualifying events, such as the birth of a child or the illness of a family member.
But it’s not clear what the broader economic impact would be, how many people would be expected to take advantage or what the ultimate cost of this proposal would be, Wingo said. "It’s too far, too fast," Wingo said. "The business community supports District employees being able to take care of their families, but this could put businesses at a competitive disadvantage. We would first like a process that would first ask, ‘What is the problem we’re trying to solve?’"
In an emailed statement, Grosso said he worked with his staff to model the implications of such a robust program, including tax numbers, employee numbers and the preliminary findings of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research — a group commissioned by the Department of Labor to study the impact of paid leave.
Among those figures, the institute estimates there are about 481,000 private company workers in the District, about 230,000 federal workers, 44,000 self-employed individuals and 42,700 local government employees. The estimated benefit levels for men and women in D.C. ages 25 to 34 — prime child-bearing years — is about $1,173 and $1,230, respectively.
The estimated length of leave time for women under 45 is 6.69 weeks for bonding and 2.99 weeks for family care. For men under 45 years old, the estimated amount of leave time is 3.2 weeks for bonding time and 2.16 weeks for family care. The average cost of family medical leave for private sector workers in D.C. is about $34.1 million in benefits.
"I understand the desire of constituents and business leaders to have more sophisticated models and deeper sets of numbers, but the fact of the matter is that introducing the bill was necessary to have this conversation," Grosso said. "Now as the bill moves through the hearing process at the council, I am working closely with our Chief Financial Officer [Jeffrey DeWitt], Chairman [Phil] Mendelson, businesses and advocates to fill out the details of what options we have for providing the best amount of paid family and medical leave for the maximum number of D.C residents, being sure to cover those low-income workers who are least likely to have access to leave.”
Grosso has won plenty of support on the council, as well as from family advocates, who say similar laws in California and New Jersey have improved worker retention with little negative impact on employers. A survey commissioned by the Campaign for D.C. Paid Family Leave found about 80 percent of D.C. residents support for the bill, even after hearing opponents’ messages.
"The truth is, the U.S. is just woefully, horribly behind the curve when it comes to paid leave in the modern, global business world," said Barbara Gault, vice president and executive director of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. She said the institute had submitted its report to D.C. government recently but did not have the authority to release it prior to its review.
Some small D.C. companies have indicated they’d welcome the ability to offer the benefit that might otherwise be too costly.
However, the resounding response from the business community has been one of concern, said Greater Washington Board of Trade President and CEO Jim Dinegar. A 1 percent tax on employers, a part of the proposal, would put both D.C. companies and D.C. residents at a major competitive disadvantage, he said. The proposal would require employers to pay up to 1 percent of their payroll depending on their workers’ pay. "This approach is one-size-fits-all and we don’t think it fits at all," Dinegar said, referring to the requirement all businesses provide the benefit.
While many have pointed to the success of paid leave laws in California and New Jersey, neither of those states is completely surrounded by its competitors like D.C., Dinegar said. And in both those states, employees pay for the benefit through payroll taxes, Dinegar said. In a recent Washington Post poll, a majority of workers supported the idea of paid leave, but also indicated they didn’t want workers to have to pay for it.
Dinegar said there are too many lingering questions about how the legislation would work, including who would determine qualifying events, such as when a person intends to take time for what’s been called "self-care" in the proposal.
"We’re not trying to slow this down," Dinegar said. "But where was the homework that was supposed to be done to craft this proposal?"
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