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San Diego County rejects paid parental leave for county workers, will explore on-site child care

San Diego Union-Tribune - 1/29/2020

San Diego County supervisors Tuesday rejected a proposal that would have given eight weeks paid parental leave to all county employees.

At the same meeting, they voted to explore providing on-site child care at county facilities such as the County Administration Center downtown and the County Operations Center in Kearny Mesa.

Supervisors also voted to allow new parents working for the county to use sick time, instead of vacation time, for bonding with new family members.

Currently county employees rely on state or federal programs for parental leave. Under the state's program, a qualified worker could receive 60 to 70 percent of their pay for up to six weeks, while the federal program allows up to 12 weeks of leave —unpaid.

Supervisor Kristin Gaspar introduced paid leave as part of three parent-friendly proposals she brought before the board. She said paid leave was a way to enhance employee morale and improve retention in a competitive job market.

She estimated the program would cost the county about $6 million per year.

"The county is the third largest employer in the region and the fifth largest employer in the country," said Gaspar, who is running to retain her 3rd district seat. "We should be a leader in family friendly policies."

However, the majority of the board opted instead to table discussing paid leave until 2022, when the county negotiates a new collective bargaining agreement with the Service Employees International Union Local 221.

Supervisor Jim Desmond joined Gaspar in voting against advancing a proposal that did not immediately add eight weeks paid parental leave.

Supervisors Dianne Jacob, Greg Cox, and Nathan Fletcher voted for it. They argued that parental leave is supposed to be discussed with the county employees' union.

Jacob said Gaspar's leave policy was not well defined and that supervisors said needed a clearer picture of what it would look like.

"As a mom I can certainly appreciate the intent of the item, and parental leave is a challenge for many working families," Jacob said. "I'm not questioning the value of having the time off after a new addition to the family, but something like this we have a process for ... and that process is negotiations."

Gaspar acknowledged that the issue is usually included in labor negotiations but said she is worried it would be overshadowed by other priorities.

She argued the county should implement it immediately and fine tune the policy later.

"If this doesn't happen today, it will never happen as part of the negotiations," Gaspar said.

Members of SEIU 221 and of the Invest in San Diego Families Coalition — a coalition of residents, nonprofits, community groups and unions — expressed support for all the family items including paid parental leave.

The group's leaders said they were surprised Gaspar brought the items forward.

Gaspar has frequently clashed with the union and the coalition, and both groups are mounting a campaign to defeat her in the November election.

"I want to be frank, when this item appeared on the agenda I got a number of calls expressing skepticism about the timing, the motive," said Dave Lagstein of SEIU 221. "That being said ... these are things that are really important to support our county employees, and we're here to say we support it."

Lagstein also encouraged the board to conduct an equity study on employee compensation if the board is concerned about retention.

The board also approved creating four lactation rooms at county facilities to support nursing mothers.

The board will hold its next meeting Wednesday at 9 a.m., at the County Administrative Center downtown.

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