Business lobby stifles move to expand unpaid family leave

illustration of a baby crawling

An effort to allow more Californians to take time off work to care for a new baby or sick relative stalled—a win for the large employers and small business owners who opposed the idea.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, a Santa Barbara Democrat, pulled SB 135 for 2019, but could take it up again next year. The bill would have given workers at companies that employ at least five people the right to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave—a benefit currently available only to workers at businesses with 50 or more employees. It also would have expanded the definition of family to allow workers time off to care for a grandchild, child-in-law, or the child of a domestic partner. And it would have guaranteed that workers who take paid family leave can’t lose their jobs for doing so.

The California Chamber of Commerce argued that it would burden small businesses and created the possibility of more lawsuits. It labeled the bill a “job killer,” a designation the employer group has used effectively to kill many bills over the years.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed expanding paid family leave from six to eight weeks by making a change in the state budget—a step toward his grander proposal that every baby born in California be cared for by a family member for the first 6 months of life. Newsom wants to pay for the cost of that expansion by reducing the program’s reserve fund. By November his task force is expected to recommend broader changes to family leave in California.

—Laurel Rosenhall