Kelley: The Federal Government Needs to Lead the Growing Movement for Paid Parental Leave


3/7/08: It is time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world by offering paid parental leave, NTEU National President Colleen Kelley told House members yesterday.

“Wouldn’t it be nice,” said Kelley, “if the federal government—once thought of as pioneering and innovative in its personnel programs—was at the forefront of this growing movement?”

President Kelley offered her strong support for H.R. 3799, the Federal Employees Paid Parental Leave Act, legislation introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) which would provide paid parental leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). Federal employees currently have access to 12 weeks of unpaid leave through FMLA.

President Kelley offered her assessment before a combined hearing of the House Oversight Reform and Government Affairs Federal Workforce Subcommittee and the Joint Economic Committee. She pointed to a Columbia University study finding that some 128 countries “provide paid and job-protected leave each year,” at an average of 16 weeks including both pre- and post-birth time off.

When FMLA was approved in 1993, Kelley said, it was widely seen as “just a first step,” adding that since that time, “it has become clear that many who would take advantage of time off for family and medical leave reasons have not done so because they are unable to forgo their income.” And that, she added, raises this vital question: “Is it fair to have a benefit that many federal employees cannot take advantage of?”

The hearing, led by Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), was called to examine the positive impact paid parental leave could have on federal recruitment and retention efforts — a timely subject in light of the looming sharp spike in retirement eligibility among federal employees and the increasingly competitive battle with the private sector for high-quality workers.

Along with NTEU’s support for Rep. Maloney’s bill, President Kelley applauded the efforts of Rep. Davis in addressing the possibility of providing a short-term disability insurance program — in concert with FMLA — as a means of replacing lost wages when taking family and medical leave. “Paid parental leave, in combination with a short-term disability insurance program, would provide broader coverage for the kind of situations, both parental and medical, that we wanted to address when (FMLA) was passed,” Kelley said. She noted that the Office of Personnel Management promised an outline of such a program “quite some time ago,” but that it has yet to be developed.