- Deseret News - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

In the State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Obama spoke on the need for parental and sick leave for all American workers. For some, his proposal is a step in the right direction, but still not enough. And for others, it’s a benefit government shouldn’t mandate on private business.

“Today, we’re the only advanced country on Earth that doesn’t guarantee paid sick leave or paid maternity leave to our workers,” Mr. Obama said. “Really, it’s 2015. It’s time.”

The comment came as no surprise to those who followed the White House announcement last Thursday that proposed giving federal employees six weeks of paid parental leave after the birth or adoption of a child and up to seven sick days per year.

“Nearly 43 million private-sector workers don’t get paid sick leave, according to the White House,” reported CNN Money. Most of those workers are part time, in the service industry and work for small business, and the majority are Hispanic.

Under the current Family and Medical Leave Act, half of American workers are allowed up to 12 weeks of parental or sick leave without the risk of losing their jobs. In most cases, however, those 12 weeks are unpaid.

Of course, the president needs congressional approval to pass both pieces of legislation. In the meantime, however, Mr. Obama will sign a memorandum that mandates federal agencies to give employees who are new parents six weeks of paid time off.

Supporters of paid parental leave say that six weeks is too little.

“The United States has long been a global laughingstock for our awful policies for children and families. We’re the only industrialized nation without paid maternity leave, and our childcare system is archaic,” wrote Jessica Valenti, a columnist for the U.S. edition of The Guardian.

According to a poll by the Make It Work campaign, the majority of voters in all parties are in favor of the president’s workplace policies.

But it will be difficult for Mr. Obama to expand paid family leave in a Congress “where Republicans are focused on reining in spending and have opposed Mr. Obama’s proposals to increase pay and benefits, arguing that it is not the government’s role to issue such mandates,” wrote the The New York Times.

National Federation of Independent Business spokesman Jack Mozloom said “required paid leave would force the association’s members to make corresponding cuts in pay and benefits that would harm the people Obama and the advocates of such policies say they want to help,” reported the Chicago Tribune.

“It ripples through the economy in ways the advocates and the president, I think, sometimes don’t see,” Mr. Mozloom said.

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