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San Francisco Passes Nation's Most Generous Paid Family Leave Law

San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require six weeks of paid leave for new parents Tuesday, nearly doubling the amount of money new parents will bring in while caring for their newborns.

By Emily Green

San Francisco became the first U.S. city to require six weeks of paid leave for new parents Tuesday, nearly doubling the amount of money new parents will bring in while caring for their newborns. And the Board of Supervisors doubled down on its liberal credentials by enacting expansive anti-eviction protections for tenants who work in San Francisco schools, from teachers to janitors and cafeteria workers.

The bills by supervisors Scott Wiener and David Campos, who are ideological opposites in the condensed world of San Francisco politics, were described as essential to helping keep working families in the city.

The Board of Supervisors also passed ordinances by Campos declaring a homeless shelter crisis and requiring "all-gender" bathrooms in most city businesses.

Tuesday's meeting spotlighted the progressive politics that are a San Francisco hallmark.

"This is an amazing opportunity for us to show once again that San Francisco leads the way," said Wiener, who authored the parental-leave legislation.

Equal access to leave

"This is absolutely an issue of income inequality where we have higher-paid workers who frequently have better access to parental leave and lower-paid workers have little to no access," he said. "It is time to make sure that all workers have access to parental leave."

The ordinance would require businesses with 20 or more employees to pay 45 percent of a new parent's salary while they are on leave for six weeks. The state picks up the balance.

One impetus for the legislation came from Wiener's own aide, Andres Power, who has a baby due at the end of April.

The legislation generated strong opposition from some small-business owners, who said it put San Francisco businesses at a disadvantage to competitors in other parts of the state who don't have to pay for parental leave. The city's Small Business Commission voted 6-1 to oppose the legislation.

In the end, Wiener made some compromises that somewhat appeased small businesses. To access the benefit, new parents would first have to work at the business for 180 days, instead of 90 days as Wiener originally proposed. After returning from parental leave, they would have to work at the business for at least 90 days or repay the money.

An economic analysis by the San Francisco Controller's Office found that about 4,600 San Francisco residents file baby bonding claims with the state each year and receive an average of $743.39 in weekly benefits for an average of 5 1/2  weeks. It found employees would gain an average of $608 per week under Wiener's legislation.


"This sets us on the level of European social democracies that have more forward-thinking policies," Supervisor Eric Mar said.

Mayor Ed Lee's spokeswoman, Christine Falvey, said the legislation is a huge step forward for working families and that he will sign it into law.

The ordinance will take effect Jan. 1 for businesses with more than 50 employees, July 1 for businesses with 35 to 49 employees, and Jan. 1, 2018, for businesses with 20 to 34 employees.

The board also unanimously supported Campos' legislation that ensures any employee, from principal to janitor, who works at a school or state-licensed day care center cannot be evicted during the school year. The legislation applies to no-fault evictions -- where the tenant has not breached the terms of the lease -- and covers public, private and parochial schools.

The San Francisco Rent Board showed 430 no-fault eviction notices filed between March 2014 and March 2015, Campos said.

"This ordinance will help minimize the impact displacement can have on a child and the school community," he said. "Our families and our educators need our help."

No-fault evictions could still be handed to teachers and families during the summer break as defined by the San Francisco Unified School District's calendar, and teachers could still be evicted any time for failure to pay rent or other issues of their own creation.

Falvey said the mayor had "no major concerns" about the measure but "still has to review."

The supervisors showed far less unanimity for Campos' ordinance declaring a shelter crisis in the city.

Building shelters

To some degree, the scope of the legislation was limited. It would allow new shelters to be quickly erected even if they don't meet existing building codes, such as the required number of bathrooms. Campos said that would allow for the faster construction of much-needed shelters to help address the homeless crisis.

"There isn't one silver bullet, and this is a step in the right direction," he said.

Supervisor Mark Farrell criticized the measure as misleading and ineffectual.

"Our proposal today shifts us away from a nationally recognized housing-first approach to homelessness while potentially costing our city a great deal of money in a different direction," he said. "I am worried that out public is being sold a bill of goods about declaring a state of emergency."

The ordinance passed 7-3, with moderates Farrell, Wiener and Katy Tang voting against it.

But if the 11 supervisors are warring enemies on one measure, they are the best of friends on another. And with great fanfare, they unanimously supported Campos' legislation requiring businesses and city buildings in San Francisco to make single-stall restrooms available to "all genders."

The measure requires businesses with single-stall restrooms to make clear that at least one is available to everyone on the gender spectrum, not just males and females. If a business has only multi-stall restrooms, it won't be required to change.

"The bottom line is that collectively we should be very proud of the fact that as places like North Carolina move to take rights away from members of the transgender community, we here in San Francisco are doing the opposite," Campos said.

"This is a great piece of legislation," Farrell said. "It's long overdue."

(c)2016 the San Francisco Chronicle

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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