Parental leave policy a ‘giant leap forward’ for City of St. Paul employees

st-paulApril VanMassenhove gave birth to her second child, Miles, last Tuesday. A clerical worker in the City of St. Paul’s Public Works department, VanMassenhove will exhaust her paid-sick days, then her vacation time and, finally, land on short-term disability in order to maintain an income while she cares for her newborn son.

Fortunately for parents-to-be working for the city, Mayor Chris Coleman and the St. Paul City Council have moved to guarantee paid parental leave for city employees.

The new policy, set to kick in Jan. 1, 2015, will provide four weeks paid salary to employees like VanMassenhove, who are birthing mothers. Non-birthing employees, like fathers or couples adopting children, will have access to two weeks paid salary as they become parents.

“This policy is good for families, and it’s good for bringing in the best and brightest to the City of St. Paul,” Coleman said. “As the manager of a 2,850-person workforce that’s seeing an increase in retirements, I believe this policy will make us an attractive employer to a new generation of public employees.”

City officials estimate the policy will cost $200,000 annually out of the city’s general fund, but it’s worth the price, said Eliot Seide, director of AFSCME Council 5, the state’s largest union of public employees.

“Our capital city is leading the way on paid leave for parents,” Seide said.  “It’s a giant leap forward for working families. And it’s a great benefit to attract the next wave of city employees as baby boomers retire.”

The Family Medical Leave Act guarantees workers up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave after bringing a child into their families – but without pay. That forces new mothers to make difficult choices about caring for their newborn and drawing an income, said Peggy Flanagan, director of the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota.

“All workers should be able to take time off to bond with a new child without having to sacrifice a paycheck,” Flanagan said. “Minnesota is a state that values children and families. We applaud the City of St. Paul for reflecting this value in its workplace policies and encourage other cities and employers to follow its lead.”

VanMassenhove, a member of AFSCME, plans to spend at least three months bonding with and caring for Miles. “I need that time to spend with a newborn, especially at first when we’re not sleeping,” she said. “Bringing a child to day care at 6 weeks – I don’t like that. It’s too young.”

But drawing down her paid-sick time – already low as a result of pre-delivery doctor’s appointments – and vacation, VanMassenhove said, will leave her in a perilous position after she returns to work.

“When Miles starts day care, if he gets sick it’s hard for me to take time off and care for him because I don’t have any time left,” she said. “I have to start from zero.”

VanMassenhove is hopeful the new policy will apply retroactively.

“To have one of those three months paid for would just be wonderful,” she said.

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