This was supposed to the moment when the stars finally aligned for a paid family leave bill for American parents. But the odds for it suddenly look a lot longer with the election of Donald Trump.
The Democrat-sponsored Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act—which would require US employers to offer 12 weeks of paid leave to new mothers and fathers, funded by a payroll deduction—has been gaining traction in Congress and was expected to have its best chance yet of passing during a Hillary Clinton administration. Clinton had pitched her own paid-leave proposal, with a different funding mechanism, but it was otherwise fairly similar to the proposed legislation
But with Republicans controlling the White House and Congress, the bill faces a tougher road than it did when it was first introduced last year. The results of the US presidential election have the bill’s supporters scrambling for new strategies, which include identifying Republican allies, pressuring businesses to expand their coverage, and trying to work with Trump.
Trump introduced his own plan this summer, which calls for six weeks of maternity leave through an expansion of unemployment insurance. While parental leave supporters have serious issues with a plan for mothers only, and have doubts about his plan’s funding, they’re heartened that Trump is at least willing to discuss the issue.
“It is the first time that a Republican talked about paid leave in a general election, and put forward a plan, even if it was a flawed plan,” says Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families, which has lobbied for paid leave.
Republicans have traditionally viewed any paid-leave mandate as an unwanted intrusion into the rights of employers to run their business as they wish. But Shabo notes that another Republican presidential candidate this year, Florida senator Marco Rubio, also proposed a parental-leave plan, based on tax credits for employers. Shabo hopes other Republican officials might get behind paid leave when they understand how popular it is with voters.
“In polling, this is not a partisan issue,” she said. “These are winning issues and these policies will have a practical impact on people’s lives.”
In a Roosevelt Institute poll last year, 83% of respondents, including 67% of Republicans, supported paid leave.
Paid-leave advocates intend to turn up the pressure on politicians who oppose the idea. PL+US, a newly established nonprofit devoted to the issue, is considering forming a political action committee targeting members of Congress, said Katie Bethell, the group’s founder and executive director. “Right now, there is no cost for opposing paid family leave,” she said.
PL+US is also launching a campaign to highlight companies with generous family leave policies, and to identify the ones that are lagging. In a report released on Nov. 16, the group attempted to document the parental leave provisions of the 60 biggest US employers, while noting that many refused to discuss their policies. (Only about half of the companies publicly disclose their policies or were willing to confirm them, leaving PL+US to rely on other means to gather the data.) “We definitely want companies to be transparent about their policies,” Bethell said. “It matters for employees, prospective employees, and policy makers.”
According to PL+US, the companies with the most expansive policies are Deloitte, Ernst & Young, and Bank of America, all of which provide 16 weeks of fully paid leave for mothers, fathers, and adoptive parents. Others, such as Starbucks and General Motors, offer shorter policies of six to eight weeks off. A number of employers, like Hilton and Procter & Gamble, offer birth mothers substantially longer leave than fathers, while a significant number give fathers no paid time off at all.
Offering leave to all parents is important because leave policies mothers only can reinforce stereotypes about the role of women as caregivers, and can be used to discriminate against women in hiring and promotion, Shabo said.
The PL+US report also noted there are a large number of employers that offer no paid time off for either parent. And the Department of Labor says only 12% of all US worker are eligible for some form of paid leave, which is one reason why advocates had been pinning their hopes to federal legislation.