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[See update below]
A pair of worker-friendly pieces of legislation will not move forward in advance of the D.C. Council’s summer recess—as labor and family advocates had hoped they would—during a Wilson Building meeting scheduled for next Tuesday.
The Universal Paid Leave Act was one of the bills some expected would get a first vote on July 12. Championed by At-Large Councilmembers David Grosso and Elissa Silverman last October, the original proposal would have provided almost all District employees with ailing family members up to 16 weeks of paid leave at varied rates based on income. But in February, the Council’s Committee of the Whole narrowed the scope of the legislation over concerns about cost: Experts estimated that the bill as introduced would have cost D.C. somewhere between $280 million and more than $1 billion a year. To solve for that issue, lawmakers provisionally lowered the benefit to 12 weeks and cut entitlement rates.
Now, the proposal will likely become even more limited. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has previously said Wilson Building staffers have been trying to strike the right balance between the bill’s costs to D.C. and benefits to workers, all while keeping the District competitive with Maryland and Virginia. Last month, Mayor Muriel Bowser signed a bill into law that will gradually raise D.C.’s minimum wage to $15-an-hour by 2020, pegging it to inflation thereafter. Proponents of businesses have cautioned that increasing the wage and providing robust paid leave could weigh down their vitality.
“D.C. is poised to make history with the most progressive paid family and medical leave law in the country but sometimes historic legislation takes a little more time to craft than we would like,” Joanna Blotner, the campaign manager for the coalition supporting the paid-leave bill, said in a statement today. “This is a huge piece of legislation that will have huge impact on all of our families, and so we’re glad our lawmakers are focusing on getting things right.”
Blotner added that the campaign will continue to canvass throughout the summer, advocating at community meetings and lobbying councilmembers. In a progressive jurisdiction like D.C., though, the idea of paid leave is popular. (Even presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has praised the proposal in a Washington Post op-ed.)
Simultaneously, the Council has chosen to postpone a full vote on a work-scheduling bill for the second time in the last month. Introduced by At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange in December, the Hours and Scheduling Stability Act would require major retailers and restaurant chains with more than 40 locations nationwide to provide their staff with at least two weeks of advanced notice of their shifts; failing this, employers would have to compensate these workers with so-called “predictability pay” based on an individual’s particular wage. The bill also contains protections for part-timers.
Trade groups like the Retail Industry Leaders Association have come out strongly against the proposal, welcoming the latest vote-deferment. “It is clear that a strong majority of councilmembers understand the deep flaws within this proposal and have made their concerns known,” said RILA Senior Vice President Joe Rinzel. “Restrictive scheduling would hurt economic development in the city, and make it more difficult for students and seniors to obtain part-time or seasonal work with local retailers.” (The bill passed committee 3-2.) RILA is calling for a business task force created by Mayor Muriel Bowser to review the legislation, among other workforce initiatives, before the Council takes a vote on it.
But labor advocates such as D.C. Jobs With Justice insist that the law is needed as more low-income employees and their families feel squeezed by the increasing cost of living in D.C. The group is holding a press conference with local faith leaders on Monday in front of city hall to advocate for the bill. “Working people need paid leave, sufficient hours, and predictable schedules to best provide and care for their families,” JWJ says. “Now is the time for the Council to show moral leadership by advancing legislation to provide scheduling stability—and paid family and medical leave.”
While the Council won’t consider paid leave of worker-scheduling until after its summer recess, lawmakers are set to vote on a contested bill that would boost compensation for pedestrians and cyclists involved in crashes on Tuesday.
Update, July 11: In explaining the reasons for the delay on the bills, Mendelson said at a press conference on Monday that their legislative complexity—and how they would interact economically—has concerned several councilmembers.
“There’s a great deal of concern about the details of the scheduling legislation would play out in real life,” he said. “My sense today is that there is a majority of members who want to support a universal paid leave bill. So the prospects of the scheduling bill are enhanced by not having to go through a two-thirds [majority] vote, and [giving] the proponents the summer to work on issues.”
Mendelson added that he believes the paid leave legislation will clear the Council by the end of its current period. The bill originally called for a one-percent tax on employers’ payrolls to finance the program, and policymakers are still studying what an appropriate rate is.
“It’s less than the original bill,” Mendelson admitted, declining to provide further details when asked. He also noted that lawmakers are figuring out how to administer the new program.
The chairman said he “[did not] know” if the worker hours and scheduling legislation would pass the Council this year.
In a statement, Grosso, who drafted the paid leave bill with Silverman, said he was “disappointed” it would not advance this week, but remains “committed to the goals of the bill and to enactment by the end of the year.” He said his staff will work over the summer to “get a bill that is progressive and fiscally responsible,” so the Council can vote “in September.”
Meanwhile, labor advocates and faith leaders met outside the Wilson Building early Monday morning to underscore the need for both pieces of legislation. Arguing that their polls show a majority of residents support the bills, they delivered letters of support to the Council. “These two initiatives for paid leave and adequate work hours are essential for us to sustain family life in our communities,” Rev. Graylan Hagler of Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ, said.
Following tomorrow’s session, the Committee of the Whole is scheduled to meet after the summer on Sept. 20.