Nate Muramatsu: GW should change its stance on paid leave bill

Nate Muramatsu, a sophomore majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

The D.C. Council must vote by the end of the year on a bill that would allow anyone living or working in D.C. 12 weeks of paid leave. If passed, this would be one of the most progressive paid leave measures in the country.

Unfortunately, GW is lobbying against the Universal Paid Leave Act. The University is part of a group of businesses and institutions resistant to universal paid leave efforts. Instead, they’re proposing their own paid leave plan. But the Roosevelt Institute, a student-led think tank at GW and other universities across the country, collected 753 student signatures and 20 staff signatures in support of the bill, which demonstrates that students are genuinely concerned that GW could keep the bill from passing.

This level of support from the community should compel officials to seriously consider the Council’s bill. If one of GW’s top priorities is improving affordability for students, officials should also help employees afford living and working in D.C.

Officials should abandon their alternative plan and endorse the Council’s bill because businesses in the District of all sizes are supporting progressive paid leave, and changing the University’s stance on the bill would send a clear message to workers around the city that one of the District’s largest institutions cares about its employees.

Renee McPhatter, the assistant vice president for government and community relations, says that GW does support paid leave for employees – just not the Council’s version.

“GW believes strongly in the concept of paid leave for employees,” McPhatter wrote in an email. “For years, the University has provided a paid leave program that includes vacation and personal days, safe and sick leave and sabbaticals. However, the University has concerns with the proposed government-run, 1 percent payroll tax-funded leave program.”

The plan that GW supports, called an “employer mandate” proposal, would require District employers to provide up to eight weeks of paid time off. This alternative measure, while well-intentioned, doesn’t go far enough to give District employees the amount of leave they deserve to take care of loved ones or recover from illnesses.

For one thing, the employer mandate model is privately funded – it expects that businesses come up with their own funds to pay for paid leave programs. This plan favors large employers, like GW, that have the money and resources to shell out paid leave from their own pockets. For smaller businesses in D.C., this isn’t feasible without incurring huge costs. In contrast, the D.C. Council bill would implement a 1 percent tax increase on businesses in D.C. to pay for a paid leave fund.

The University’s preferred plan might fully compensate workers for a shorter period of time, but the Universal Paid Leave Act would pay workers 90 percent of their wages over a longer period of time. It’s important to realize that the latter plan would provide better balance for workers and businesses. Employees could have more leave, but businesses wouldn’t be responsible for footing the entire bill.

GW should want to remain an attractive employer, and the Council’s bill would help it be one. The University doesn’t have a set paid leave policy in place for employees who aren’t full-time faculty. Full-time faculty make up only a portion of the workers at GW, and the University needs to recognize that the same benefits should apply to every level of employee. The employer mandate model that GW favors doesn’t address the differences between full-time employees and part-time employees – it merely extends the paid leave that full-time faculty get to spend away from work from six weeks to eight weeks. The D.C. Council bill gives the same amount of leave to all employees, regardless of their employment structure.

Overall, the D.C. Council’s bill would be more beneficial to every level of employee within the University. GW is an enormous institution that can influence other businesses in the District. Universal paid leave is a progressive step that officials should seriously consider to support accessibility and affordability.

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