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Many California public employees ineligible for paid family leave

Many California public employees ineligible for paid family leave
Many California public employees ineligible for paid family leave 04:54

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — As Governor Newsom rolls out his plan for extending maternity benefits and paid family leave, CBS13 investigated why hundreds of thousands of state workers, teachers, firefighters, and other public employees still don't have access to any state-funded paid leave after having a baby.

CBS13 uncovered an estimated 95,000 state employees who currently are not entitled to paid family leave, along with an unknown number of city, county, special district and federal employees, and the majority of the more than 300,000 California teachers.

Elementary school teacher Emily Price is among them.

"People are surprised. People just think 'oh, you're out on maternity leave. You're just getting paid to take care of your baby.'" Price said, "No, not really. I ran out of pay a while ago."

Most California mothers are entitled to six-to-eight weeks of disability pay after giving birth, allowing moms to physically recover. Then moms, dads, and adoptive parents are entitled to another six weeks of paid family leave – otherwise known as the baby bonding period.

The leave is paid for through a 1% disability insurance tax that entitles most Californian's to 60-70% of their pay while on leave. That money is intended to supplement a parent's income and it is often crucial to cover the costs of diapers, medical bills, childcare and all of the additional expenses that go along with a new baby.

"Babies are really expensive," Price noted, explaining that she was surprised how much babies actually cost.

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Unfortunately, for Price and many others, State Disability Insurance Code exempts "any public employee." That means public employees don't pay into the SDI fund with the 1% tax, but they also can't collect the benefits when they need them.

Instead, many state and public employees only have access to saved-up vacation and sick time while on leave. Once that is used up, the rest of their leave is unpaid.

Teachers like Emily also get differential pay after their sick leave is exhausted. But, she noted the difference between her salary and what the district pays her substitute isn't enough to get by.

In Price's case, her sick and vacation pay didn't last long because her baby came late.

"I basically burned through my paid days before she was born," Price said.

And she noted, now that her sick time is gone, she won't have any if her baby gets sick once she returns to work.

The paid family leave is a marquee issue for Governor Newsom.

The governor's proposed budget would extend paid leave an extra two weeks next year for each parent, to 8 full weeks of paid leave. His landmark plan pays for the additional paid days without any new taxes or impact to the budget, he says the money will come from significant SDI reserves.

Newsom has also commissioned a working group to figure out how to extend paid leave even more. His long-term goal is 6 months total paid leave after having a baby.

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But while it will extend the length of time off for most people, it won't guarantee any paid time for public employees. CBS13 sat down for an exclusive interview with Gov. Newsom to discuss paid family leave and those left out.

"There are hundreds of thousands of Californians who are not entitled to this leave right now including firefighters, CHP officers, and public employees. How is that possible?" CBS 13 Investigative Reporter Julie Watts asked.

"It's possible because they haven't bargained for it. It's not an excuse. It just hasn't been a high enough priority," Newsom said.

While the disability insurance code exempts "any public employee," it does allow their employer, in this case, public entities, to elect coverage. Paid leave is also something the unions must bargain for — or they can vote to take part in SDI as a group and contribute 1% of every member's paycheck.

But that's a tough sell for many male-dominated unions whose members may not be thinking about having babies. That leaves the new parents among them to fend for themselves since they can't individually opt-in to SDI.

Of the 21 bargaining units for state employees, only the nine represented by SEIU have bargained for disability coverage including paid family leave.

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Another 40,000 exempt state employees will soon get partially paid family leave paid by the state. That's thanks to a plan put in place last year by Governor Brown just before he left office. He decided supervisors, managers, high-ranking appointees, and other non-union employees should get 50% of their paycheck without having to pay into disability insurance at all. The new program takes effect in July of 2019. However, it does not include rank-and-file state employees represented by unions.

That leaves an estimated 95,000 union state employees without access to disability insurance or paid family leave according to data obtained from California HR and union representatives. The unions include Cal Fire, CHP, corrections officers, engineers, state scientists and many more.

There is also an unknown number of other public employees who don't have access to paid leave including city, county district and federal employees. The state says it cannot disclose who does not have coverage, however, it did confirm 1,890 public entities and their employees have elected SDI coverage.

As for teachers, there is at least one teachers' union and several classified professional unions that have bargained for paid family leave. However, union representatives say the vast majority of the estimated 300,000 California teachers don't have access to state-funded paid disability or family leave after having a child.

"Teachers' unions say they have bigger fish to fry," explained Brian Ha of the California Federation of Teachers.

He notes that their negotiations are dominated by issues like pay and class sizes and paid family leave usually gets bargained away.

"The truth of the matter is, they're not doing this because it only affects a small number of employees," Ha adds.

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez recently reintroduced legislation that would require school districts to pay a teacher's full salary for just the first six-to-eight-week disability period after having a baby. After that, they would continue to get differential pay for what would otherwise be the paid family leave period for private employees.

"Whether or not leave is protected, whether it's paid or not, depends on who you work for," Gonzales pointed out.

She introduced the same legislation in 2017 and it passed but was vetoed by Governor Brown who said he believed, "further decisions regarding leave policies for school employees are best resolved through the collective bargaining process at the local level."

Swipe below to see 6 states with paid family-leave programs.

New York
Rhode Island
New Jersey
Washington D.C.

Gonzalez is reintroducing the bill with renewed hope under the new governor. But, she acknowledges the proposed fix still leaves tens of thousands of Californians uncovered, many of whom may want to pay into SDI, but can't.

"It's a much bigger problem," Gonzales said.  "I'm dealing with teachers because there's a teacher shortage we're talking about an overwhelming workforce that's women, but even the Governor's office is like, 'you know it's a bigger problem?' and I said 'I know it is.'"

CBS13 asked Gov. Newsom, "So why not just allow individuals to opt in without the rest of their union?"

"Let's look at the cost. Let's look at where the unions are," he responded, noting union negotiations are a complicated process.

"So, just to be clear," we asked, "There's nothing that you as the governor can do to allow anybody who wants to opt-in to disability insurance to do that?"

"Well, there's a lot the governor can do and we're pursuing that and every day we're pursuing more of that," he said.

Newsom has commissioned a working group of people he calls "the best minds in the country." They're working to create a blueprint for expanding paid family leave even more.

In the meantime, he notes the State is currently in negotiations with several unions and says he plans to make this issue a higher priority in negotiations moving forward.

See more of our interview with Gov. Newsom below.

RAW: CBS13 Investigator Julie Watts Sits Down With Governor Newsom by CBS News Sacramento on YouTube
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