Examining the Importance of Paid Family Leave for American Working Families


Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy Senate Finance Committee

Chairman Cassidy and Ranking Member Brown, thank you for allowing me to offer a statement for your hearing today on the importance of paid family leave for American working families.  As National President of the National Treasury Employees Union, I represent over 150,000 federal employees in 32 agencies across the government.  As you may know, 128 countries currently provide paid and job-protected parental leave, with an average of sixteen weeks’ time off.  75% of the Fortune 100 companies offer a paid parental leave program to new mothers. Sadly, the federal government has no paid parental leave policy in place for its workers.

NTEU has worked with Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12), a champion of this movement, since 2003 to provide paid parental leave for federal employees. The legislation twice passed the House of Representatives, but died in the U.S. Senate, and the Congresswoman’s current bill, H.R. 1022, awaits consideration.  A Senate companion version, S. 362, introduced by Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI), would provide six weeks of paid parental leave to federal employees. We urge the Committee to review and to support this legislation.

When this movement began, we wanted the federal government to be a leader and model employer in providing this benefit to employees.  Now, federal agencies lag far behind the private sector, and are finding it increasingly difficult to attract younger workers, who see this benefit as a crucial part of their compensation.

Federal employees earn thirteen days of sick leave a year.  Currently, it takes a woman over three years to save enough sick leave to cover the period of incapacitation after pregnancy (6-8 weeks) – and that’s without taking a single day of sick leave during those three years.  Pregnancies generally also require at least fourteen doctors’ appointments, so not taking sick leave is almost impossible.  Additionally, if an individual has a sick family member and depletes sick leave in that circumstance, then she has nothing left to use upon the birth of a child.  Some of my members report that they have worked while being sick themselves because all their leave was used for the birth of their child.

As you know, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows twelve weeks of leave for the birth or adoption of a child; however, it is unpaid leave. Few federal employees can afford to take weeks of unpaid leave. While the FMLA has played a vital role for workers, we continue to believe that no federal employee should be forced to choose between a paycheck and caring for the newest member of the family. 

Research has showed that the federal government could significantly reduce the departures of young female employees by offering paid parental leave, resulting in millions of dollars saved in turnover costs.  First-time mothers who utilize paid leave are more likely to return to their job.  In addition, paid parental leave can lead to increased productivity, better morale and reduced absenteeism. And, federal agencies need to offer paid parental leave benefits, given that during the last ten years, almost every major U.S. corporation has instituted and expanded paid parental leave policies. The Pentagon is increasingly recognizing the role of paid parental leave in recruitment and retention, and has recently increased paid parental leave for members of the military.

Enactment of S. 362 would be an important first step for new federal employee parents, and we encourage passage of this legislation to both strengthen middle class federal families as well as to enhance federal agencies’ recruitment and retention tools.