State employees in Missouri are the lowest paid in the nation, and lawmakers have struggled for years to give them a raise.
With a tough budget year on the horizon, a salary boost in 2017 will once again be a tall order.
So House Speaker Todd Richardson, a Poplar Bluff Republican, is pushing a different idea: legislation granting state workers paid time off upon the birth or adoption of a child.
“We’re faced with a situation where Missouri needs to attract the best and the brightest workers,” Richardson said. “At a time when we struggle to find pay increases for state employees, finding ways to improve benefits makes a heck of a lot of sense.”
Missouri state employees are now allowed 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protective leave to care for a newborn, adopted or foster child, to care for a family member, or to attend to the employee’s own serious medical health condition, as stipulated by federal law.
Under the House legislation, state employees would be allowed to take off 10 work days with pay after they become a parent.
The bill would apply to both men and women, but would not apply to private-sector employees.
Richardson pointed to a recent study by the Women’s Foundation and the University of Missouri’s Truman School of Public Affairs’ Institute of Public Policy that found paid family leave can reduce the percentage of those who receive public assistance or food stamps in the year following a child’s birth. The study also concluded that paid family leave encourages women to stay in the workforce.
“This is example of an area where the state needs to lead by example and make that benefit available,” he said.
Three states — California, New Jersey and Rhode Island — offer paid family and medical leave to all employees, even the private sector. New York will join them in 2018. The programs are funded through employee-paid payroll taxes and are administered by the state.
Sen. Jill Schupp, a St. Louis County Democrat, called the House legislation “a great first step,” and praised Richardson for making it a priority.
“State employees shouldn’t have to decide between staying home with a new baby and keeping their job because they can’t afford to take time off,” Schupp said.
Schupp filed her own legislation that goes further than the House proposal; her bill would apply to non-government workers in Missouri as well. It would allow all employees who are not independent contractors up to six weeks of paid time off upon the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a family member with a serious health condition, to tend to a personal health condition or to assume any responsibilities that result from a spouse, child or parent being notified of an impending call to active duty in the armed forces.
Employees would be required to contribute annually to a fund administered by the state Department of Labor, and benefits would only be available after a worker has contributed to the fund for one year. The program would be available in 2020.
Schupp hopes that a compromise could be struck between the House and Senate legislation, perhaps as simple as expanding the reasons state employees could receive paid time off.
“This is family-friendly legislation that will help with economic development by encouraging employees to want to work and live in our state,” she said.
Only 12 percent of U.S. private sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But companies are increasingly adopting the benefit.
In 2015, video streamer Netflix announced it was offering unlimited paid family leave to all of its salaried employees. Since then, companies such as software maker Adobe Systems, hotel chain Hilton Hotels and furniture maker Ikea have all increased the number of paid days for new moms and dads.
Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation, praised efforts to expand family leave in Missouri, saying such a move would “strengthen families, help state workers become more productive, and result in a more effective state government workforce.”