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Worthwhile Albany Initiatives



Rebecca Traister on the major new legislation passed by the New York Assembly:

You say you want a revolution? A political, social, economic policy upheaval that will dramatically alter the playing field for millions of Americans by significantly reducing economic and gender inequality?

Don’t look to the presidential campaign. Look closer to home.

On the last day of March, the New York State legislature finalized a budget deal that included not only a promise to raise the minimum wage to $15, but also the nation’s newest — and by far its strongest and most comprehensive — bill mandating paid-family-leave time for most employees.

That means that New York has just become the fifth state — after California, which passed its family-leave insurance program in 2002 and implemented it in 2004, New Jersey (2009), Rhode Island (2014) and Washington (which passed its measure in 2007 but has not yet put it into effect) — to mandate paid leave. And compared to its progressive predecessors, New York’s bill is startlingly robust.

The program will mandate up to 12 weeks of paid time off from a job to bond with a new child (including adopted or foster children), or to care for a gravely ill parent, child, spouse, domestic partner, or other family member. The duration of the leave, while still far from the 40 weeks guaranteed in the U.K. or even the 16 weeks provided in Bangladesh, doubles the 6 weeks allotted in California and New Jersey, and triples the 4 weeks of paid leave offered by Rhode Island.


What’s more, women and men will be entitled to paid leave. For both straight and same-sex two-parent households, this benefit could have a big impact on family finances and health, according to Dina Bakst, a lawyer and founder of A Better Balance, a legal advocacy group for working families. “It’s possible that parents could stagger their leaves,” she said, “which is crucial because infant care is so unaffordable and inaccessible. It would make a real difference to be able to hold off on putting a baby in day care until they are four or five or six months old, as opposed to four weeks old.”

New York’s passage of a $15 minimum wage and the most progressive family leave policy in the country is, inter alia, an excellent illustration of the “dealbreaker” fallacy. The way to deal with sometimes wayward public officials like Cuomo is through primaries that either replace them with more progressive candidates or provide incentives to move them to the left, not to throw elections to Republicans.

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