Obama to push for mandatory paid leave

President Obama will launch a new push Thursday to require paid leave for U.S. workers.

Obama will sign a memorandum to ensure federal employees get at least six weeks of paid sick leave after giving birth, senior adviser to the president Valerie Jarrett said Wednesday.


The president will also call on Congress to approve legislation that requires employers to offer employees seven days of paid sick leave. 

“We can't say we stand for family values when so many women in this country have to jeopardize their financial security just to take a few weeks off of work after giving birth,” Jarrett wrote in a blog post on LinkedIn. “We can't say we're for middle-class stability when a man has to sacrifice his economic security to care for his ailing mother.”

Obama will also pressure Congress to pass the Healthy Families Act, which would give U.S. citizens the ability to earn seven days of paid sick leave, and announce additional funding through the Department of Labor to help states study how to create their own paid leave programs.

The announcement comes two days after The Hill reported that Democrats are seizing mandatory paid leave as their next big pocketbook issue ahead of the 2016 election cycle.

Out of 185 countries and territories in the world surveyed by the International Labor Organization, the United States is one of only two that does not offer paid maternity leave. Papua New Guinea is the other.

Obama will also propose allocating $2.2 billion in the 2016 budget to support state efforts to establish paid leave programs and allocate $1 million through the Department of Labor to fund state feasibility studies. Last year, the department gave the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, Montana and Rhode Island a total of $500,000 in grant money to fund studies on creating state initiatives.

Jarrett said the president pushing action at the state level does not mean a mandatory paid leave law won’t pass on Capitol Hill.

“Last year in his State of the Union Address the president said he’s going to work with Congress, but he’s also not going to wait for Congress to act,” Jarrett said. “We can work with Congress and at same time use federal resources and tools to help state governments set up programs as well.”

With a new Congress, Jarrett said there is an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to work together on an issue that voters on both sides of the aisle are calling for. 

“Massachusetts has a Republican governor, but the people of Massachusetts are very interested in supporting these kinds of initiatives, so we shouldn’t assume that because it didn’t get traction before it won’t get traction now,” she said. “We shouldn’t in any way be discouraged that it hasn’t happened yet. We want to reach across the aisle and get it passed now.”

Opponents claim a mandatory paid leave law would increase costs for employers, especially small business owners, who lose 10 percent of their workforce when one employee is out sick.

But Betsey Stevenson, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers, said studies show that paid leave policies actually help profits.

When employees come to work sick, she said, they risk getting other employers and customers sick.

“Take California for example. When the policy was implemented employers expressed concern that it would hurt their bottom line. Six years later in 2010, 90 percent said it did not impact productivity or profitability,” she said.