The Anchorage Assembly is considering a proposal to allow for paid parental leave for executive and non-union city employees.
It’s sponsored by Assembly members Austin Quinn-Davidson, Meg Zaletel and Suzanne LaFrance, and it’s the second time in less than two years that Quinn-Davidson has attempted to secure paid parental leave for city workers.
“It provides this opportunity to not only benefit the family and the infants and moms and dads, but to give the employer an opportunity to say, ‘You go spend four weeks, eight weeks, 12 weeks —whatever it is — with your family,’” Quinn-Davidson said. “But it also means that person’s going to come back to work.”
The policy mirrors one that was put in place by Quinn-Davidson on June 30, 2021, her last day as acting mayor following Ethan Berkowitz’s resignation. Mayor Dave Bronson quickly rescinded the policy upon taking office.
Before it was revoked, Anchorage’s parental leave policy allowed for up to four weeks of paid leave. Quinn-Davidson said the new proposal allows for the same amount of paid parental leave.
“That’s following the birth of a child, adoption — so if you were to adopt, you still need that bonding time with your kid as well — and also foster placement,” she said.
Quinn-Davidson said the prior parental leave plan was in the works for almost a year, starting under Berkowitz.
“The mayor’s staff at the time, before I was acting mayor, had drafted an enabling ordinance and brought it to the Assembly in July 2020,” Quinn-Davidson said. “And then, after that, staff started working on the policy.”
Quinn-Davidson said the benefits of a parental leave program include allowing parents to spend more time bonding with newborns, as well as reducing rates of infant mortality and hospitalizations. In a time when child care options have become expensive and scarce in Anchorage, she said it helps retain employees and prevent the costly training of new hires.
When Bronson rescinded paid parental leave upon taking office in July 2021, he said it came “hastily only hours before the previous administration left office.”
“It came with virtually no data, information or even a basic understanding for how it would impact the municipality’s budget or financial outlook,” he said in a statement then.
He also got rid of a program that allowed new parents to bring infants up to six months old into the office.
Quinn-Davidson disagrees with the mayor’s assessment of the parental leave policy.
“I have to laugh when the mayor has described it repeatedly as ‘rushed’ because it took at least a year to get it going,” she said.
The proposed policy currently excludes union-represented employees, since changes to their work force policy would be subject to collective bargaining and contract negotiations between the city and unions. Quinn-Davidson said she’s hopeful that, if the Assembly approves parental leave, the city would later add the policy to union-represented employee benefits as well.
In public remarks on the new parental leave proposal last week, Bronson didn’t make a firm commitment in favor or in opposition. On the one hand, he described the policy as a means to incentivize hiring of city employees.
“We know that the MOA cannot compete against wages in the private sector, so perhaps a policy like this is warranted, especially for families looking to grow,” Bronson said.
However, in the same report, Bronson expressed concern over how the policy could impact existing employees.
“I do think it’s important to consider this policy through the view of equity,” Bronson said. “When considering the act of providing one class of employees a set of benefits that another class does not have, we must weigh how that impacts both morale and staffing.”
Officials with the mayor’s office did not respond to questions about the parental leave policy, or which class of employees he was referring to in his remarks.
Quinn-Davidson said she suspects he was referring to employees with children versus those without. She said she understands that perspective, but she thinks that the benefits to the community as a whole outweigh any concerns over fairness.
“Before I knew better, I might have agreed with him,” Quinn-Davidson said. “But I think just a little bit of reading and thinking about society in a broader way and long-term investment would cure him of that perception.”
Quinn-Davidson also said the four paid weeks off being offered to new parents isn’t a lot. She noted that the federal government offers 12 weeks of parental leave, and many private sector jobs are beginning to offer paid parental leave as well.
“We should look at the four-weeks policy as sort of the minimum,” Quinn-Davidson said. “It’s not like we’re doing something really groundbreaking here.”
The Assembly will vote on the parental leave policy during its meeting on March 7.