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St. Pete gets nod from U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez for its paid leave policy

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez made a stop in St. Pete Wednesday afternoon to give Mayor Rick Kriseman a pat on the back for his leadership in expanding the city’s paid leave policy for employees. Perez told city employees they won the “boss” lottery.

“But you shouldn’t have to win the boss lottery to take care of a sick kid,” Perez said, adding that leave policies should also include provisions for the care of a sick parent.

The Obama administration is pushing for a federal leave policy that would allow new parents to take paid leave for the birth or adoption of a child as well as paid sick leave for individuals.

“Parents are putting sick children on the school bus because they can’t afford to miss work,” Perez said on the steps of St. Pete City Hall.

Worse, he said people who work in restaurants often choose to go to work even if they are sick.

“It’s probably not a good idea from a public health perspective for someone who’s sick to serve food or someone who’s sick to be a nurse or another medical professional at a hospital because they have no choice,” Perez said.

According to Perez, the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world to not have some form of federal leave policy on the books.

His comments echoed sentiments from newsman and comedian John Oliver, who broached the subject on Sunday. He pointed out that the only other nation without any paid leave policy is Papua New Guinea. Oliver’s hilarious take on his Mother’s Day special mocked the United States for lacking such a policy with an endearing message to moms, beginning with babies on bosoms and kissing boo-boos. That is, until an announcer breaks in to remind a mom just handed her newborn baby to get back to work.

There was even a shout out to the Tampa Bay Rays for the Major League Baseball team’s Mother’s day gift, a Rays flower pot.

While Oliver was mocking the United States’ apparent love for moms and the blatant hypocrisy in making a fuss over Mother’s Day while simultaneously blocking laws that benefit moms, the Rays do have exemplary policies when it comes to family leave.

Rays president Brian Auld was invited to speak at the press conference with Secretary Perez because of those policies. That includes paid maternity and paternity leave as well as a minimum of three weeks vacation time for all employees. The organization even encourages its employees to take one paid day off every month to volunteer in the community. Many of those employees use that day to volunteer in their child’s school.

“They could probably make more money doing something else, but our organization is so strong because the employees we have choose to be part of the Rays organization because it’s a place that cares about them,” Auld said.

Another business, C1 bank, also spoke about its leave and pay policies many consider progressive. CEO Trevor Burgess said he noticed 26 employees who were all making less than what he considered a livable wage so he gave them a raise.

But Perez made the point that even though in the United States such policies are seen as “progressive” and tend to garner more support from Democrats than Republicans, the issue shouldn’t be partisan.

“The center-right government in Australia defeated the left-center government that was in power on a platform of expanding paid leave for their residents,” he cited as an example.

Perez hopes that by taking the lead on providing better leave policies for employees, the City of St. Pete can serve as a model for other communities, and ultimately federal policy.

“Local and state governments are often those incubators of innovation, building opportunities in ways that our all-too- frequently dysfunctional Congress is unable and unwilling to do,” Perez said.

The United States does have some policies to protect women who have given birth. Under the Family Medical Leave Act, new mothers, and employees in other qualifying situations, can take up to 12 unpaid weeks off of work and have their positions still guaranteed when they return.

But, as Oliver noted in his 12-minute piece on paid leave, many families cannot afford to take the time off without a paycheck. In one clip, Oliver showed a woman who delivered her baby six weeks prematurely. Her family decided it was best to take the four weeks she planned to take off of work once the baby was home. In order to do that, she immediately returned to work while the baby was still in the hospital.

Oliver also showed a news interview in which a guest pointed out that some women put the unpaid time off following the birth of a new child on a credit card.

“Think of all the points she earned towards vacations she can’t now take because she has a f—ing baby,” Oliver joked.

But it’s situations like those Kriseman sought to eliminate among his employees and that Perez hopes the federal government will take steps to protect against as well. He said positively, it’s not a question of “if,” it’s a question of “when.”

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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