New York City

NY democrats confident about passing paid family leave

February 29, 2016 By David Klepper and Deepti Hajela Associated Press
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks during a rally for paid family leave in New York on Feb. 17. New York may soon join California, Rhode Island and New Jersey by allowing workers to take paid time off to care for a new child or sick loved one. AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File
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Maria Cortes had to miss two days of work this month to care for her husband when he had eye surgery, the latest of a slew of health issues he’s had that have taken her away from her job as a home health aide.

“You don’t go to work, you don’t get no pay,” said Cortes, of Brooklyn. She’d like to take more time to care for her husband but doesn’t have the option. “When the check comes short, you say, ‘What am I going to do?’ Because you have to pay the bills.”

Cortes is among those hoping New York soon joins California, Rhode Island and New Jersey in creating a system that allows workers paid time off to care for a sick loved one or a new child. After years of pushing paid family leave bills in the Legislature, advocates say broad public support and a new vocal champion in Gov. Andrew Cuomo make them increasingly optimistic.

“We’ve been coming down year after year,” said Donna Dolan, executive director of the New York State Paid Family Leave Coalition. “We hope this is the last. We believe the stars have aligned.”

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Cuomo cited the illness and death of his father, former Gov. Mario Cuomo, when he proposed his version of paid family leave in January. Cuomo said that he regretted not spending more time with his father in his final days, and that it’s important for people to take time to care for loved ones without jeopardizing their paycheck.

Cuomo’s plan would allow a worker to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off. The program would be funded through an employee payroll deduction of less than $1 a week. The benefit wouldn’t replace a worker’s entire salary; the version that passed the Assembly last month would impose a limit based on the average state wage. Using current figures, the benefit would top out at $633 weekly.

The Senate has yet to vote, but leaders there say they are closely considering the idea.

“There is no good argument against it: not an economic argument, not a social argument, not a policy or pragmatic argument against it,” Cuomo said at a rally for his proposal in Rockland County on Monday. “Papua New Guinea and Suriname are the only two countries that don’t do this. This is the United States of America, and we’re missing a basic platform of humanity and decency and respect for family.”

The focus on paid family leave reflects a larger leftward move for the Democratic governor, who is also making a push to gradually raise the minimum wage from $9 to $15 a priority for the year.

Another reason this could be the year: While many businesses loudly oppose a $15 minimum wage, their opposition to paid family leave is more muted. And public support is strong. A Siena College poll this month found 80 percent of New Yorkers back it, including 69 percent of Republicans.

That may be one reason why Republican Senate Leader John Flanagan has said he’s willing to consider the proposal. He has noted that “several” of his fellow Republicans have a keen interest in the idea.

Business groups remain wary. Even though Cuomo’s proposal would be funded through an employee payroll deduction — and not by employers — Ken Pokalsky, vice president of the Business Council of New York State, said it will be a burden.

While the employee is caring for their child or relative, the employer will have to either hire a temporary worker or make his other employees pick up the slack, he said. The proposal requires a business to keep an employee’s position open while they are on leave.

“Even if I can find an adequate replacement, good luck finding someone who will do it for six or 12 weeks,” he said. “It’s going to be disruptive, and it’s going to cost more.”

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