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Unfinished Business

Unfinished Business: Paid Family Leave in California and the Future of U.S. Work-Family Policy

Ruth Milkman
Eileen Appelbaum
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: Cornell University Press,
Pages: 152
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  • Book Info
    Unfinished Business
    Book Description:

    Unfinished Business documents the history and impact of California's paid family leave program, the first of its kind in the United States, which began in 2004. Drawing on original data from fieldwork and surveys of employers, workers, and the larger California adult population, Ruth Milkman and Eileen Appelbaum analyze in detail the effect of the state's landmark paid family leave on employers and workers. They also explore the implications of California's decade-long experience with paid family leave for the nation, which is engaged in ongoing debate about work-family policies.

    Milkman and Appelbaum recount the process by which California workers and their allies built a coalition to win passage of paid family leave in the state legislature, and lay out the lessons for advocates in other states and localities, as well as the nation. Because paid leave enjoys extensive popular support across the political spectrum, campaigns for such laws have an excellent chance of success if some basic preconditions are met. Do paid family leave and similar programs impose significant costs and burdens on employers? Business interests argue that they do and routinely oppose any and all legislative initiatives in this area. Once the program took effect in California, this book shows, large majorities of employers themselves reported that its impact on productivity, profitability, and performance was negligible or positive.

    Unfinished Business demonstrates that the California program is well managed and easy to access, but that awareness of its existence remains limited. Moreover, those who need the program's benefits most urgently-low-wage workers, young workers, immigrants, and disadvantaged minorities-are least likely to know about it. As a result, the long-standing pattern of inequality in access to paid leave has remained largely intact.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6950-3
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Introduction: The Case for Paid Family Leave
    (pp. 1-15)

    California made history on September 23, 2002, when Governor Gray Davis signed a bill into law creating the nation’s first comprehensive paid family leave (PFL) program. Although nearly every other country in the world guarantees paid leave to employed mothers (and in many cases, fathers as well) when they take time off to care for a new child, the United States is famously exceptional in its failure to do so.¹ Since 1993, the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) has guaranteed unpaid job-protected leaves for new parents of up to twelve weeks. However, it makes such leaves available to...

  5. 2 The Politics of Family Leave, Past and Present
    (pp. 16-39)

    In November 2011, Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly publicly chastised conservative talk-show host Mike Gallagher after he lambasted her threemonth maternity leave as “a racket” on the air. Although Kelly shares Gallagher’s conservative worldview and has criticized the U.S. government’s “massive entitlement programs” herself on other occasions, she was outraged by his comments regarding her use of family leave. “We’re populating the human race,” she exclaimed. “It’s not a vacation. It’s hard, important work.” Kelly added that the United States is “the only country that doesn’t require paid maternity leave,” pointing out that the FMLA provides only for unpaid leaves...

  6. 3 Challenges of Legislative Implementation
    (pp. 40-54)

    Soon after the legislation creating California’s paid family leave program was passed, the focus shifted from the political arena to the more mundane but equally critical challenges of implementation and administration. This involved a series of distinct and highly demanding tasks. Regulations had to be drafted and disseminated, specifying in detail how the program would function. Administrative mechanisms, including claims-processing procedures, had to be created and tested. That task was simplified because PFL was so similar in structure to the existing SDI program and administered by the same agency, yet it still presented challenges. In addition, staff had to be...

  7. 4 Paid Family Leave and California Business
    (pp. 55-84)

    Business opposition to the legislation that established California’s paid family leave (PFL) program was ubiquitous in the months prior to its passage in the fall of 2002. Despite the fact that, in the final version of the law, workers’ payroll tax contributions fully funded the program, with no direct costs to employers, business groups were unrelenting in their vehement opposition. The president of the California Chamber of Commerce singled the PFL bill out for special censure in the immediate aftermath of its passage, saying, “We’ve opposed a lot of bills, but this is one of the worst” (Broder 2002).


  8. 5 The Reproduction of Inequality
    (pp. 85-106)

    Policies are not the same as outcomes. California’s paid family leave program illustrates that truism all too well. The program was intended to function as a social leveler, with the key objective of ensuring universal access to partial wage replacement for baby bonding and caregiving leaves for all workers in California—including those whose employers provided minimal paid-time-off benefits or none at all. But nearly a decade after the program began operating, that outcome remains a distant goal. Many eligible workers do not even know that PFL exists, and even among those who are aware of it, take-up of the...

  9. 6 Conclusions and Future Challenges
    (pp. 107-118)

    Changing family and work patterns in the United States—increased maternal labor force participation, the aging of the population and the accompanying growth in the need for eldercare, along with rising male participation in parenting and family caregiving—have dramatically expanded demand for paid family leave. Apart from the business community, which consistently opposes public policy initiatives that address this issue, there is a broad public consensus in support of paid time off for workers when they have new children or need to care for seriously ill family members. Politically, this issue transcends the usual Left-Right divisions, as we saw...

  10. Methodological Appendix
    (pp. 119-130)
  11. Notes
    (pp. 131-136)
  12. References
    (pp. 137-144)
  13. Index
    (pp. 145-152)