How the City Wants to Make Life Better for Working Parents

A proposal introduced by the Boston City Council would provide six weeks of paid time off for new mothers and fathers who work for the city.

Councilor at Large Michelle Wu, one of the proposal’s sponsors, holds her son during a recent hearing on the summer Olympics.
Councilor at Large Michelle Wu, one of the proposal’s sponsors, holds her son during a recent hearing on the summer Olympics. –Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff

Workers employed by the city of Boston could soon be guaranteed six weeks of paid time off when they have a child.

City Councilor at Large Michelle Wu and City Councilor Timothy McCarthy (District 5) filed a proposal Monday to give paid parental leave to city employees, and Mayor Martin Walsh announced he would sign the ordinance if the City Council passes it.

Both mothers and fathers, including same-sex couples, who have worked for the city for at least a year, qualify for paid leave under the proposal. Employees would get 100 percent of their usual pay for the first two weeks off, 75 percent pay for the third and fourth weeks, and 50 percent pay for the fifth and sixth weeks.

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“This is important for the city of Boston as an employer to attract the most talented workforce and give them every opportunity to be happy and productive in their roles,’’ Wu said in a phone interview. “And to not have to choose between working and raising a family in the city.’’

Currently, city employees receive the same protections guaranteed to all other public and private workers in the Commonwealth, per the Massachusetts Maternity Leave Act of 1972.

That law guarantees new mothers can take up to eight weeks off work and return to the same or a similar position, but does not require employers to pay women on maternity leave. An update to the statewide law, which goes into effect on April 7, will extend the eight-weeks unpaid leave guarantee to new fathers and same-sex spouses.

Brad Harrington, the executive director of the Boston College Center for Work and Family, called the Boston proposal good news for working families, and said it is in line with recent laws in other big cities.

“Paid leave and parental leave are becoming sort of very much in vogue right now,’’ Harrington said, though he added that federal laws, which are some of the loosest in the world when it comes to paid parental leave, are unlikely to change soon. “We’re seeing that a lot of individual companies, or increasingly large cities, have decided to act on their own to do something about it.’’

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Only 14 percent of U.S. employers offer paid paternity leave, according to the 2014 National Study of Employers by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute. A handful of cities, including Washington, D.C., Austin, Texas, and St. Paul, Minnesota, have adopted paid parental leave policies for municipal employees in the past several years. A proposed law in Seattle is awaiting a vote by the City Council there. San Francisco took up the policy in 2002.

Each city has slightly different rules for how many weeks of leave are mandated and what percentage of wages is paid. Wu said Boston’s proposal was built through conversations with administration officials, but also by watching the example of other cities, some of which have found the program more expensive than they expected.

“We wanted to offer something that was substantive and offered a significant time off,’’ Wu said. “But also something the city could afford.’’

The ordinance will be officially introduced to the City Council on Wednesday, when Wu and McCarthy plan to add Councilor Tito Jackson (District 7) as a third sponsor. It will be assigned to a committee before eventually returning to the full council for a vote.

But Wu says she hopes that is not the last stop for parental leave reform in Boston.

“We strongly hope this will spark a conversation and pave the way for other companies to do the same,’’ Wu said. “I think this is something every parent should have access to.’’

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