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California made history this past July 1 when it became the first state to introduce a comprehensive paid family leave law. Both state and federal laws currently provide unpaid leave, but workers who cannot afford to take time off without pay are often forced to choose between a paycheck and caring for their loved ones. Under the new law, workers can receive up to 55 percent of their salaries (a maximum of $728) for up to six weeks a year.

While many workers have expressed a sense of relief that they are entitled to partial pay, some members of the business community worry that the law will cause companies to move out of the state and burden employers. Here is a sampling of what America is saying about paid family leave.

The Christian Science Monitor – Boston, Mass.
June 25, 2004 – Letter to the Editor

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"Recently confronted by the reality of my own pregnancy and comparing my situation with that of my European colleagues, I learned that virtually every government around the globe offers a social-security fund for new parents.

"How can it be that the US is on par with Swaziland in terms of not offering paid family leave? Although I find myself in the lucky shoes of a staff member who is entitled to generous benefits…I am appalled that the majority of those employed in the US take time off to birth a child and follow the first few months of his or her growth at the expense of mounting credit-card bills.

"This policy is an embarrassment to this country for its lack of respect for families, as well as a telling comment on the way the current government 'upholds' family values."

The Christian Science Monitor – Boston, Mass.
June 25, 2004 – Letter to the Editor

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"…I was anxiously counting the hours I need to work through lunch this week in order to leave a few hours early on Friday, as I have only one day of earned vacation this quarter.

"Three years ago, our company took away sick days and did not add time to our 15-17 general vacation days. How sad to have the balance scale so lopsided with our work time vs. vacation time.

"My mom refers to corporations as factories. It used to bother me, but I'm beginning to see the sad humor in the truth she speaks."

San Jose Mercury – San Jose, Calif.
July 6, 2004 – Editorial

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"The state's new paid family leave law acknowledges that the workforce is changing. Gone are the days when stay-at-home moms cared for new babies, sick kids and aging parents so the breadwinners could stay on the job.

"The business community, which strongly opposed the law, is concerned that it will drive companies out of the state and put a strain on employers, especially small businesses. Certainly if most workers…in California took six weeks off a year, the state's productivity would suffer and the costs would be unacceptable.

"But a recent study by the UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations offers reassurance. According to two surveys conducted last fall – one of employers and one of the general public – half of the employers in California already were offering family and medical leave benefits beyond what was required before this law took effect. Yet only about 6.7 percent of employees in those companies took leave during the year. In companies that didn't offer enhanced benefits, 4.5 percent took leaves. Employers reported little difficulty in covering for employees who were on leave.

"As usual, California is charting new territory in American social policy with this law. The risk is that the cost of paid leave will become too great a burden on workers and employers. But if it is not overused; if it helps workers keep their jobs, reduces stress and promotes healthy families, then other states are likely to follow California's lead."

Chattanooga Times Free Press – Chattanooga, Tenn.
July 11, 2004 – Editorial

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"The National Women's Law Center released a study "Slip Sliding Away" on the erosion of women's rights. It found, under Bush:

* The Labor Department has refused to use tools at its disposal to identify violations of equal pay laws.

* Labor repealed regulations that allowed paid family leave to be made available through state unemployment funds. Now it's unpaid leave only.

* Labor has proposed new regulations that deprive millions of workers of the right to overtime pay — and even gives tips to employers on how to avoid paying overtime when the law still requires it.

* The Department of Justice has weakened the enforcement of laws against job discrimination and abandoned pending sex discrimination cases.

"Among the Bush budget cuts affecting the lives of millions of women are cuts in Head Start and other early childhood education programs, after-school programs, K-12 education, housing subsidies, child care, career education, services for victims of domestic violence, the nutrition program for women, infants and children (WIC) and Pell grants to help pay for college."

The Sacramento Bee – Sacramento, Calif.
July 1, 2004 – Commentary – Daniel Weintraub

"California today begins a grand social experiment that might become a model for the nation – or might cement the state's reputation as a bastion of good intentions gone awry.

"Paid family leave takes effect today for most California employees, who now are eligible for up to six weeks off work each year, with partial compensation, to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member.

"The concept is not a new one to most of the industrialized world. But until now, no state in America has offered such a benefit. And no one really knows how it is going to turn out.

"Supporters say the policy will be a boon to workers, building morale and relieving stress by freeing employees from the burden of choosing between their work and their family. Reduced use of sick leave and lower turnover rates, they say, also will be an advantage to employers.

"But many business interests believe the new law, which at first will be funded solely by a tax on workers, will cost more than advertised, leading to pressure on employers to help fund it. And they say it will be a massive headache for firms of all sizes to manage their employees' leave.

"That human element makes it difficult to predict how many people will take paid leaves, how much those leaves will cost and how their absences will affect their employers and co-workers.

"The idea is one that has nearly universal support. But it is really a giant leap into the unknown."

The Sacramento Bee – Sacramento, Calif.
July 1, 2004 – Letter to the Editor

"Re 'Paid family leave: Another leap for California," Other views, July 1: I think Daniel Weintraub is afraid of his own shadow.

"The family-leave measure has yet to cost business one dime, and he's already complaining about the high costs to business.

"This is the greatest state because Californians reach for bold ideas and economic justice."

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