SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Governor Gray Davis hopes that by signing the highly debated SB 1661 or "paid family leave bill", employees here will be better able to balance their work and family needs. "Californians should never have to make the choice between being good workers and being good parents," said Davis. "This bill will help millions of California workers meet their responsibilities to both their family and their employers." Authored by Senator Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) the bill allows workers to be paid 55% of their salary for six weeks of leave to care for a new child or sick loved one. The program will expand the state fund providing insurance for disabled workers but will be funded entirely by employee payroll deductions, averaging about $26 a year. The bill also requires workers to use up to two weeks vacation time for family emergencies and caps the benefit at $728 a week. About 13 million of California's 16 million workers would be eligible. California Chamber of Commerce President Allan Zaremberg says that the bill adds to a business climate that discourages job creation. "We're opposed to a lot of bills, but this is one of the worst," said Zaremberg in a statement. "When you're the only state in the country with paid family leave and they've tried it in 27 other states and it's failed in each and every one, we see it as a competitive disadvantage in attracting or keeping businesses here." Supporters of the measure are waving off the business community warnings as nothing but smoke and mirrors and say that similar predictions were made when the Federal Family Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993. So where does that leave credit unions? Surprised that the legislation passed and waiting to see what happens now. San Mateo Credit Union Vice President of Human Resources Lecia Roundtree advises credit unions to start becoming more familiar with the bill. "Now is the time to really take a closer look to see what you are already doing, what the deficit is on what you have to do and filling in the gap," said Roundtree. "It is no longer a matter of if but determining what steps you need to take to get there." Roundtree says that although she is still in the initial information gathering stage the bill's impact on SMCU may be minimal since the $439 million credit union already allows employees to use their sick time and vacation while on FMLA. "We have always made a point to be a bit more generous in our benefits than we have to be," said Roundtree. SMCU has established a recognition budget for its 128 employees and even has a policy where other employees can donate their personal time to an employee in need. "We have a while to work out the details," said American Electronics Association Credit Union Vice President Human Resources Suzanne Carlisle. "My position is that while I think it is wonderful that employees have this opportunity, the bill will create a hardship for credit unions here. My only concern is that as we move down this path at what point do we draw the line. It is so hard to do business here. We have huge increases in workers compensation, insurance premiums are skyrocketing and you begin to wonder when they are just going to roll up the sidewalks because businesses have left the state." The $708 million credit union has always focused on creating an employee friendly environment and for the past two years has implemented a program that allow employees to bring their babies to work up to the age of four months. The babies must have health certifications and if the child is sick then he or she must go home. In addition, employees are limited to bringing in one piece of baby equipment-a bouncy chair, carseat, etc. "We have always said that we'd make the call if an area isn't conducive to that- for example the teller line is no place for a baby," said Carlisle. "If someone is at the loan center and the cubical is too small to accommodate the child then we move them to another area. It works out great. Sometimes if I have a stressful day then I pick up a baby, go for a walk then come back and drop him off feeling great." Carlisle believes the resistance to the measure if any may actually come from employees – once the deductions begin. "It is great to think that the working population will say `this is wonderful' but there will be those people who will say `no why should I pay for someone else's child or family member'," said Carlisle. "I'm hoping that we don't start seeing class action suits as a result of the big hearts of our California legislators." Hope is rising that Davis' decision will spark a national movement that has been slowly building strength. So far 27 other states including Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey and Washington, have introduced similar legislation. Payroll deductions for eligible workers would begin in January 2004 and employees would be allowed to start taking paid leaves as of July 1, 2004. [email protected]

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