Numerous Sonoma County government employees will benefit from two months of fully -paid parental leave if members of the county’s largest union sign off on a new contract deal over the next week and the Board of Supervisors adopts it next month.
County officials and leaders from Service Employees International Union Local 1021 came to terms Friday on a contract that would last through the end of February, after which both parties hope to secure a new multiyear agreement.
Terms of the tentative agreement include a lump sum payment equal to about 2 percent of salary and salary-related benefits for members of the union, which represents around half of the county’s about 4,000 employees.
The proposed contract would also would provide eight weeks of paid time off for employees who become new parents — a key additional benefit sought by the union’s leaders, who are urging members to vote in favor.
Voting began Monday night and ends next Tuesday, according to Joel Evans-Fudem, president of SEIU’s Sonoma County chapter.
If the union approves the contract, county supervisors will take it up at their next public meeting July 10.
Paid parental leave was critically important to the union, which wanted to see the county provide more support for all new parents, regardless of sex or whether they are adopting or fostering a child.
Under earlier agreements, the county didn’t offer its own category of paid time off specifically for employees bonding with a new child, though workers could use protected time allowed through state and federal laws and draw from their accrued vacation time or sick time balances.
“It was shameful, honestly,” Evans-Fudem said. “So getting that was huge.”
Employees would be able to use the new benefit for bonding time within their new child’s first year, according to Christina Cramer, the county’s human resources director.
The paid time off can also can apply during an employee’s disability period toward the end of their pregnancy and immediately after childbirth, Cramer said.
Most county employees don’t pay into the state’s disability plan, making them ineligible for short-term disability benefits provided by the state and the state’s paid family leave program, she said.
County employees can already be paid for the entirety of their parental leave if they’ve accrued enough sick time and vacation hours, but “the newer employees don’t have that,” Cramer said.
“They are forced with the decision of, I gotta pay my bills or come back to work and leave my child,” she said. “This basically gives another pay bucket specifically for ... being paid to bond with a new child.”
Board of Supervisors chairman James Gore called the parental leave addition “totally a common-sense proposal” and said it was “asinine” for the county not to have such a benefit in place.
“This is a big win for employees, but also for our values,” Gore said. “I can’t look people in the eye and tell them that they only get a couple (paid) days off with their kid. That’s crap.”
Contract negotiations were supposed to start in earnest in October, but the wildfires upended those plans, shifting the focus of county leaders and rank-and-file employees alike to the immediate disaster response.
A coalition of unions later asked the county to extend the provisions of their contracts by one year, along with a 2 percent pay increase they wanted to help cover the rising cost of living.