Politics

City of Houston employees could soon get paid parental leave

If passed, city employees would have 160 hours of leave for prenatal appointments and other absences as needed, as well as 320 hours of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child, regardless of gender.

New parents who work for the city of Houston could soon get 12 weeks of paid parental leave starting May 14.

The city council quality of life committee met Thursday to discuss a leave policy for new parents who work for the city that includes both pre- and postnatal leave.

If passed, city employees would have 160 hours of leave for prenatal appointments and other absences as needed, as well as 320 hours of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child, regardless of gender. Starting Sept. 1, 2023, the parental leave time after having a child would increase to 480 hours.

The policy also includes 40 hours of infant wellness leave for the first year of the child’s life for first-year health care appointments. All full-time employees who’ve worked for the city for at least six months would be eligible.

Right now, new parents who work for the city have 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave. If they want to take paid leave, they have to save up vacation and sick time.

Roy Sanchez, the president of Houston city employee union, said new parents are often new employees who haven’t been able to save up a lot of extra time off to use when their child is born.

“I’ve been working with the city for 28 years, so I’ve got a lot of vacation time built up,” Sanchez said. “New employees, they don’t have a lot of vacation time built up, so it’s tough for them, and this is going to help them out.”

Councilmember Abbie Kamin, who was the first city council representative to give birth during her term when she had her son last year, helped spearhead the policy with the Houston Women’s Commission and multiple city departments, including human resources and legal. She said her own pregnancy inspired her to look into the city’s pregnancy and parental leave policies.

When she was bedridden with severe morning sickness, Kamin said she thought of other pregnant city employees. She realized many of those employees would have to choose between using the time off they’ve saved to rest during pregnancy complications, to bond with their child or to take their child to the doctor.

“You’re basically choosing between a paycheck and caring for yourself and your child,” Kamin said.

To stay competitive in hiring, Kamin said that choice shouldn’t happen.

Supporters believe robust pre- and postnatal leave policies will help with retention, something Kamin said is essential as the city faces challenges during “the Great Resignation.”

Paying for the new parental leave policy won’t add anything extra to the city’s budget, according to the Mayor Sylvester Turner’s office — hours ae already included in the annual budgeted personnel costs and salaries. The city didn’t have to add any additional funds to the personnel budget to make this policy happen, .

Mayor pro-tem Dave Martin argued that the policy did have some small budget implications but was still the right thing to do.

“It’s something that we can afford because it’s the right thing to do, and it’ll keep our employees happy, and it will make your place the place where people want to go to work,” Martin said.

There’s no set date for a vote on the policy by the full City Council. Kamin said she expected that could come in the next couple of weeks.

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