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Wednesday, July 11, 2018 1:00 am

Mayor's paid-leave proposal put on hold

Council members question parental perk for city staff

DAVE GONG | The Journal Gazette

Fort Wayne city employees won't have paid parental leave for at least the next few months, after the Fort Wayne City Council put off acting on a proposal Tuesday from Mayor Tom Henry to provide up to three weeks of paid leave for new parents.

Henry, who announced last week he is running for re-election in 2019, proposed the policy last month. If approved, the policy would grant the city's non-union employees access to 120 hours, or about three weeks, of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a new child.

The policy would apply to mothers and fathers who are employed by the city. To be eligible, a person must have worked for the city for 12 months and have put in about 1,250 hours on the clock. Under the proposed policy, parental leave must be taken within the first 12 weeks after a birth or adoption.

It is unclear when, if ever, the proposal will return to the council's agenda for a vote, but council members said they do not want to discuss it until at least October, when Henry's office submits its annual city budget for review.

Fort Wayne does not currently have a family leave policy, said Stephanie Crandall, the city's director of intergovernmental affairs. The city does have short-term disability, which new mothers can use. An employee on short-term disability can collect 60 percent of their pay for about five weeks, Crandall said.

City employees are entitled to leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act following a pregnancy, Crandall said. However, FMLA is 12 weeks unpaid time off, unless an employee has previously accrued paid vacation or sick time.

“It really allows city employees to focus on bonding with their child and adjusting to a new family situation,” Crandall said of parental leave. “Any parent can tell you that it is a lot to bring in a new child, whether it's through birth or adoption.”

Crandall said she believes the policy will strengthen families and will be something that helps attract top talent to work for the city of Fort Wayne. The reason the proposal doesn't already include union employees, Crandall said, is that unions would need to negotiate paid family leave as part of their collective bargaining process. City Council voted to end collective bargaining for non-public safety employees in 2014.

Although some council members appeared to support the idea of paid family leave, several said they could not support the proposal outside of the council's annual budget discussions. Councilman Michael Barranda, R-at large, used Tuesday's discussion as another opportunity to criticize the way Henry's administration handles the yearly budget process, after insisting that the proposal is not “budget neutral.”

“And right now you're asking us to mandate an addition to the budget that you ask for and maybe I like. But it's a one-sided conversation,” Barranda said. “We don't get to have a discussion about what we can add to the budget and what we can take away. So my vote is going to be no.”

State statute sets forth the local government budgeting procedure, not the mayor's office.

In a typical situation, the new policy would not cost the city any additional money, Crandall told the council. City Controller Garr Morr agreed, adding that the city already budgets 52 weeks of pay for every employee. Adding three weeks of parental leave would not increase that amount, Morr said.

The only time the policy would potentially cost the city money, Crandall said, would be in rare instances where a position required a temp be hired to perform necessary duties during a period of parental leave. Most of the time that won't be necessary, Crandall said.

However, Crandall said officials estimated the policy would cost about $20,000 a year, $100,000 if it was extended to union employees as well. The extra cost, if necessary, would come out of the overtime costs that are worked into each department's annual budget, Morr said.

Councilman Paul Ensley, R-1st, wondered whether the city of Fort Wayne employs too many people if some employees are able to take three weeks of parental leave without the need for a temporary employee to assume their duties.

“The only inference I can draw from that is that we have positions that are so unessential to the city that you can leave for three weeks and nobody has to do any of your work or everybody that is going to do your work has so little work to do that they can fit that into their normal 40-hour workweek,” Ensley said. “And so we essentially have, I think, too many employees if that's in fact the case.”

Other Indiana cities that have adopted similar proposals include South Bend, Lake County and LaPorte, Crandall said. LaPorte has had a paid family leave policy in place since 2015.

A statewide policy approved by Gov. Eric Holcomb took effect in January. Under that policy, full-time state employees are entitled to up to 150 hours of paid family leave after a birth or adoption.

Allen County does not have a paid parental leave policy for its employees, county spokesman Michael Green said Tuesday. However, new mothers and fathers can take leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

“In addition, new moms would be paid at 60 percent of their pay rate for six weeks (eight weeks for a C-section) under our short-term disability policy, which may be supplemented by any available paid-time off the employee has remaining in their anniversary year,” Green said.

Councilman Geoff Paddock, D-5th, was the only council member to vote against tabling the proposal. Councilman Glynn Hines, D-6th, was absent Tuesday.

dgong@jg.net