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St. Paul Officials Consider Paid Maternity Leave For Employees

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- The city of St. Paul appears ready to start giving its workers paid leave when they bring home a newborn.

Mayor Chris Coleman announced the proposal on Wednesday.

"We join only a handful of cities across the country with this act," he said. "Only just three or four major cities in the country offer this benefit."

Coleman said every council member is in favor of the plan. It would provide four weeks paid time off for female city workers who give birth, and two weeks paid leave for a city worker whose spouse gives birth, effective Jan. 1, 2015.

The city must hold two hearings on the proposal before taking a final vote.

Federal law allows for workers to take up to 12 weeks off for childbirth, but that's unpaid. Few cities--and just 12 percent of American companies--provide paid leave.

Lately, though, there have been high-profile examples of employers like Google offering these benefits, and some say it's part of a cultural shift.

In her recovery from a C-section, Kaitlin Johnson of Minneapolis has her husband, Chris Warren, home to help take care of their newborn, Everett.

"I'm not really supposed to lift more than a baby basically," Johnson said.

Her husband is a senior software developer whose Boston-based company, Bright Cove, gives him a three-week paid leave.

"I don't know how much I'd actually be getting done if I was there right now," he said. "I'm tired just generally all the time. Sleep schedule's all out of whack."

Johnson quit her job during her pregnancy, so without her husband's leave, they would've faced the tough choice between a paycheck and this time together at home.

"I think I'd probably be frustrated with my employer if I didn't have some leave," Warren said.

The U.S. Department of Labor is pushing for laws that would mandate paid leave for childbirth.

A new video highlights the difference between an American worker with no paid leave, and a German woman who is guaranteed 14 weeks paid.

The U.S. is the only developed nation without paid maternity leave.

The average working mother in America still takes 10 weeks off - whether her employer pays or not.

St. Paul will soon pay its employees for four weeks. The mayor said it's a matter of competing for the best workers.

"Anybody that is trying to attract young talent to their organization or their level of government is going to understand that they need to provide benefits like this," said Coleman, "just as we provide health insurance."

The arguments against paid leave are basically focused on economic efficiency. An employer is paying someone for time when they're not working and shifting that work to someone else.

Matt Kramer, president of the St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, said from a business perspective, he considers paid leave to be a relatively small expense but a significant incentive.

St. Paul leaders estimate that the new policy will cost the city $200,000 out of the general fund.

"My humorous response to this," said Kramer, "is that (the cost) might be greater because you remember, St. Paul was named the most romantic city."

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