The Seattle City Council on Monday passed an ordinance stemming from the city Workforce Equity Strategic plan that immediately expands paid family leave for city employees.
The leave benefits are expected to cost the city $2.3 million annually. The ordinance was sponsored by the full council.
Under the ordinance, eligible city employees who become parents -- either by birth, adoption, foster care or legal guardianship -- will be entitled to 12 weeks of paid leave to be with their new child. The leave can be taken within 12 months of birth or the beginning of guardianship.
Previously, the city offered only four weeks of parental leave.
The city also expanded the availability of paid leave for care of ill family members. City employees who leave to care for a family member -- including parents, a spouse, domestic partner, child or in-laws -- with a serious health issue will be able to take four weeks of paid leave for care.
That leave won't be unconditional. The condition must be certified by a health care provider and employees must use a certain amount of sick leave and vacation time before they can use the paid family leave.
Shaun Van Eyk, a union representative for the Professional and Technical Employees Union Local 17, expressed reservations about the required "draw down" of sick and vacation time to access paid family leave.
"We have concerns that it ultimately have unintended and disparate impacts on women employees of the city of Seattle," van Eyk said. "We'd ask the city to be mindful of that. Track the data, track the usage and be open to ... revisiting that component of the ordinance at a future date."
This observation can be backed up by data. A study of 18 years of workforce data published in 2016 by researchers from State University of Buffalo and the University of California Los Angeles found that one-third of women in their 50s and 60s are devoted to the care of an elderly parent and are thus less likely than their male peers to remain in the workforce.
Councilmember Lorena Gonzalez said the city was committed to examining the impact of the leave policy over time.
"It's no secret that family care obligations often fall to women, and particularly women of color," Gonzalez said. "With paid family and parental leave policies [to] get to the heart of racial and gender equity, today we remove institutional barriers to employment opportunities at the city and once again lead the country by living and practicing our values."