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Council vote OKs paid parental leave for non public safety staff

Friday, June 21, 2013 by Michael Kanin

In a first for a Texas municipality, the City of Austin will offer 30 days of paid parental leave to many of its employees. As part of a resolution approved without a ‘no’ vote – Mayor Lee Leffingwell abstained – Council members also allowed city workers to take their new benefit without exhausting other paid leave first.


Employees subject to collective bargaining rights – workers with the city’s three public safety unions – are exempt from the privilege for now. They could, however, argue for parental leave as part of currently ongoing contract negotiations.


The move to allow city employees to use parental leave before they expend vacation and sick days came on a motion from Council Member Mike Martinez. Martinez suggested that the difference between that option and one that would force employees to use all of their other leave before their parental days kick in was not fiscally significant enough to warrant the later version of the plan.


“We’re talking about an already $300,000-plus expense as drafted,” Martinez said. “By adding this amendment, it’s a minimal increase.”


For his part, Leffingwell – a co-sponsor of the item – was careful to say that he supports paid parental leave. “I can’t vote against this because I believe in it, I sponsored it,” he said.


However, the mayor was not confident enough in staff calculations cited by Martinez to vote to allow city employees to use parental leave first. “I can’t support it because I don’t believe that the homework has been done on it,” Leffingwell added.


According to calculations in a memo from Deputy Chief Financial Officer Ed Van Eenoo, allowing staff to use parental leave before sick and vacation days could cost up to $108,000 annually. That figure was in addition to the $321,000 it may cost the city to institute paid parental leave.


Council Member Bill Spelman suggested that Van Eenoo’s math is on the conservative side. Spelman further noted that Council could come back and change the benefit, if it became too expensive.


“It was not possible to come up with a precise estimate if we did not require people to use up all of their (regular) leave first – and I think that’s the source of the Mayor’s concerns: We can’t get a precise estimate,” Spelman offered. “This is one of those cases I think where we have to try it and see how it works. If it turns out that this (benefit) is too generous at this current level, we can always consider, in the next year, cutting it back to require people to use up all or some of their sick time and annual leave in advance. But I don’t believe that that’s where we are.”


Leffingwell said that his abstention was a first in his eight years on Council.

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