Metro is joining the growing ranks of employers offering paid parental leave, with a new policy endorsed by the Metro Council at its Thursday meeting.
The policy, effective Aug. 1, grants employees eight weeks of paid parental leave to care for a newborn or newly-adopted child under the age of 18. A broader family leave program for all employees in Oregon was approved by the legislature in 2019 and is scheduled to take effect in 2023.
“This policy promotes gender equity in the workplace, supports workplace health and provides economic stability for Metro families,” said Andrew Scott, Metro’s interim chief operating officer. “Metro’s workforce – at the Oregon Zoo, the Convention and Expo centers, at our waste transfer stations, at our 17,000 acres of parks and natural areas and at our other work spaces now know that they will be supported when they have children.”
Councilor Christine Lewis, whose district includes most of urban Clackamas County and parts of Southwest Portland, was one of the strongest advocates of the Metro program.
“Our employees are our most valuable asset, and it’s important that we celebrate families and support our workers,” Lewis said. “If we want to retain institutional knowledge and expertise, we need to make sure our employees are supported in their family lives.”
Previously, Metro offered parental leave through state and federal family leave programs, but those required employees to use sick and vacation time to care for a new child. That limited the amount of paid time off employees could take after a birth or adoption.
Some parents would use their sick time to cover expenses, only to have to take unpaid days off when a child – or the employee themselves – got sick.
Elizabeth Goetzinger, the president of AFSCME Local 3580, a labor union which represents close to 500 Metro workers, said the move sets an example for employers all over the region.
“By demonstrating that this program can lead to a healthier workforce and stronger families at minimal cost, we can show that the value added to employers is more than worth the cost to those who might otherwise be skeptical,” Goetzinger said. "This helps even the playing field for workers, particularly for women and women of color who have the biggest, often unseen and unpaid burden of caregivers in our society."
The program has proven health and economic benefits. The United States is the only G-20 country not to require employers to offer parental leave.
“As a society, we are all better off when kids have a strong start in life,” said Hila Ritter, an advocate for the parental leave policy and a Metro manager. “Economically, paid parental leave aids in the recruitment and retention of a valuable employees, particularly women. More than ever, families depend on women’s earnings, but, on average, women’s earnings still lag behind men’s, which has consequences for the economic security of women and their families.”
Ritter also pointed out how parental leave makes for healthier communities on overall.
“Access to paid family leave increases participation in preventive health care which plays a vital role in boosting the overall health of the workforce, improves long-term productivity, and helps to reduce long-term health care costs,” she said. “These factors, combined with higher levels of employee satisfaction that come hand in hand with paid leave, bolster economic growth.”