spirit of detroit
Detroit City Council has approved funding for a paid parental leave program that begins in the next calendar year. It will provide up to six weeks of full pay to qualifying city employees. (Bryan Pollard/Shutterstock)

City of Detroit employees with new babies will have another benefit next year: six weeks of paid parental leave.

Detroit’s City Council has allocated $1 million for the program that will offer mothers, fathers and adoptive parents fully paid parental leave within the first year of the birth of their child.

District 3 Councilman Scott Benson said he’s been lobbying for the plan for two years and expects it will be a major benefit for the city’s entry-level and junior-level employees.

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“It’s a great way to say ‘we support you and we want you to be with us and we support families,’” he said. “That’s the foundation of a strong, stable city.”

Benson said financial pressures often force new mothers to return to work within weeks of giving birth, but “we’re eliminating that” because “it’s just the right thing to do.”

“It brings the city in line with the vast majority of the developed world,” added Benson, who worked on the effort with District 2 Councilwoman Angela Whitfield-Calloway.

The policy was among the budgeting measures council members signed off on in recent days following weeks of deliberation over how to spend city funding in the upcoming fiscal year.

In a closing resolution for the 2022-23 fiscal budget laying out priorities including plans for recurring funding support for the parental leave program, the council noted Detroit is “one of few large municipalities with no framework or access to parental leave for expecting parents.”

Benson said paid leave is critical in helping Detroit families ensure their income remains stable. The leave benefit comes after the city announced an initiative in February to make sure every city worker earns no less than $15 per hour in the next fiscal year.

The city intends to launch its paid parental leave program on Jan. 1 when Detroit expects to have a unified human resources system. The police department system is operated separately.

Now that the council voted to fund the program, Detroit’s Human Resources Department is responsible for implementing it for the city of about 9,000 employees. Benson said rank-and-file workers and appointees will be eligible for the benefit. Detroit’s elected officials will not be.

To qualify, full and part-time workers must be employed by the city for at least 12 months.

Molly Weston Williamson, director of paid leave for A Better Balance: The Work & Family Legal Center in New York, said the city’s paid leave plan is part of a growing trend for municipalities.

“Detroit is right in sync with what we’re seeing with cities across the country,” she said. “It’s a growing trend and the pandemic really drove home how much life can change very quickly and these needs can arise.”

Paid parental leave legislation has been proposed or passed in states including South Carolina and Georgia and in cities like Nashville and New York City. Policies, she said, range from three weeks to 12 weeks and the plans vary on who and how much is covered.

“It’s not uncommon for policies to be limited to full-time employees or to be limited to employees employed for a certain amount of time,” she said. “We always advocate for policies that cover all kinds of parents. Some cover birth and adoptive parents. Some others cover foster parents.”

As in everything, she said, these policies take work, but overall “the lesson has very much been that once you get things up and running, it does tend to be fairly smooth sailing.”

Ruth Martin, senior vice president and chief workplace justice officer for MomsRising, notes one in four women nationally return to work within two weeks of having a baby because they don’t have paid leave, and one in five workers are retiring earlier to help families provide care.

The national Family and Medical Leave Act provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job protected leave. But it doesn’t cover everyone, Martin said. Some workers are excluded if they haven’t put in enough time with an employer, others are left out completely because they work for a small business.

About 10 states have adopted paid leave policies and those also factor in parental leave, Martin said.

“There’s very little downside to having paid (parental) leave,” she said. “There’s a cost for sure and you have to do some planning around it, but the upside is it keeps people attached to the jobs they need.”

Martin noted most municipalities with leave programs offer partial wage replacement and that 100% wage replacement is not common.

Benson said Detroit isn’t the first in Michigan to authorize paid parental leave, but he believes the city is near the front of the pack. It’s too soon to know what the true cost to the city will be.

“You can’t forecast how many people are going to have children,” said Benson, adding some essential job positions will require a replacement worker in an employees’ absence and others might not. “The first year is going to be telling for us.”

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