D.C. COUNCIL members seem to feel there is no limit to the demands they can make on companies that try to do business in the city. Witness the burst of legislation in the past three years requiring employers to pay higher salaries, provide new benefits and face new regulations . Now, with the ink barely dry on those laws, a majority of the council wants to put an additional burden on employers with a tax that would allow workers to take up to 16 weeks of paid family leave annually. No doubt the American workplace needs to become more family-friendly, but this proposal is not grounded in reality and would end up hurting the District and its workers by driving up costs and driving away jobs.
Legislation recently introduced by seven members of the 13-member council would establish a program of universal paid leave for almost every part-time and full-time employee in the District who wants time off to tend to a new baby, an ailing parent, or his or her own care. The proposal, as The Post’s Aaron C. Davis reported, far eclipses current programs offered by states such as California and New Jersey. The proposed 16 weeks is more than double the six weeks offered by those states, and D.C payments would be more generous, with some workers able to receive 100 percent of their pay. The tax on employers would be based on payroll, and the program would be administered by the D.C. government.
Putting aside the very real concerns about the city’s ability to operate such a program and its costs, there is a basic problem in the city’s failure to take into account employers that already provide paid leave. Why should a company that already offers a range of leave options (vacation, sick time, short- or long-term disability insurance) be required to pay into this fund? Won’t that induce companies to cut back on pay and other benefits or just move to Virginia or Maryland?
More significantly, this broad-brushed approach doesn’t target resources to the workers who are most in need. Low-income and minority groups have the least access to paid leave options, so it would be far more sensible for the city to design a program that helped them most. That would be the truly progressive option. It might not, however, satisfy the political objectives of the Obama administration and the national labor activists who apparently see the nation’s capital as an ideal laboratory for a leave policy unprecedented in its expansiveness. From their point of view, there’s only the 13-member council to convince — and how hard is that, given its apparent disregard for the realities of the business world?
We have no doubt there will be popular support for this measure with activists likely packing the council hearing. It is important, though, that D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) and Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) realize that when the consequences of shrinking investment and fleeing jobs arrive, it won’t be the activists or the Obama administration that will have to pick up the pieces.