Cleveland proposes paid parental leave, advocates want more inclusion
Cleveland is proposing 12-week paid parental leave for city employees, but some women and family advocates say it’s not comprehensive enough to accommodate other caregivers.
The proposal, introduced by Mayor Justin Bibb at Monday night’s Cleveland City Council meeting, would offer parents of newborns and adopted children 500 hours of 100% paid leave: a policy that would make the city a more competitive employer as the city struggles to attract and retain workers.
“This is about retaining our workforce and attracting new workers, but it’s also about living our values,” said Councilman Charles Slife, who has been working on a paid parental leave since taking office. “We should be ensuring our workforce is not being put into situations where they’re finding themselves unable to take care of their health or the health of their child."
While it’s a big step for Cleveland, which has fallen behind its peer cities in Ohio with similar policies already in place, the legislation is drawing some criticism for excluding foster parents and those caring for a sick family member.
“There are multiple configurations of caregiving beyond just parenting,” said Abby Westbrook, the executive director of the women’s rights group Social Venture Partners. Westbrook, along with 40 other Cleveland organizations advocating for gender and racial equity, sent a letter to Bibb and City Council urging for a comprehensive family and medical leave policy in April.
In another letter sent Friday, the coalition asked for a more comprehensive policy – or at least a one-year pilot program to assess costs.
Westbrook argues the omissions marginalize the most vulnerable groups upon whom caregiving tends to fall: women, particularly women of color. A 2022 study by the Center for American Progress found that roughly 2.9 million leaves are needed each year by working women, but 1.1 million — or 38% — are not taken. In Cleveland, infant mortality rates among Black babies are nearly five times more than white babies.
City defends proposal, highlights 'comprehensive' benefits
A city spokesperson said their proposal is already comprehensive: not only does it go beyond birth situations to include adoption and guardianship, but it also includes three weeks of paid leave for miscarriages and stillbirths. Additional benefits include up to 20 hours for employees to utilize paid leave leading up to new child events, as well as flexibility for intermittent leave.
"No other city in Ohio offers this comprehensive level of parental leave that includes these aspects," the spokesperson said. "We'll continue to look for other ways to ensure we're supporting our employees the best we can."
Slife said he is open to expanding the policy after a cost analysis, but he worries about offering then rolling back benefits if the organizers' proposed pilot program is too expensive.
“The prudent choice is to double down on these deep analyses … because at the end of the day, the city needs to have a balanced budget,” Slife said.
The current proposal would cost between $1 million to $1.2 million per year: a price tag that Slife said will ultimately save the city money by way of employee retention.
“Services are not being delivered because people are leaving,” he said.
If approved, the proposal would apply to full-time, non-union city employees. The city intends to extend the benefit to union employees in future bargaining agreements.