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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Durham Commissioners Back $15 Minimum Wage and Paid Parental Leave

Posted by on Wed, Oct 5, 2016 at 2:22 PM

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The Durham County Board of Commissioners wholeheartedly agreed that not only should the county be offering a $15 minimum wage, but should also offer twelve weeks paid parental leave for employees with new children. 

Jeannine Sato, with MomsRising in Durham, spoke during commissioners’ Tuesday morning work session about the importance of paid parental leave. She, along with other advocates, said the changes would make Durham County more family friendly. 

Sato told commissioners about her experience with parental leave as a working mother—in one case, she was denied time off through the Family Medical Leave Act and was asked to return to work after six weeks. Instead, she used up sick time. After leaving that job and switching employers, when she had her second child, she was able to get time off and use sick time as well to have twelve weeks with her child. 

But, as she noted, twelve weeks is still far below the international average for industrialized nations.

"So I really do urge you to consider this issue seriously," she said. "We observed many, many parents sometimes returning to work days or weeks after giving birth because they simply did not have paid time off. ... Having a child is actually the number one cause of temporary poverty in this country, which is shameful." 

Other advocates for the new leave policy, however, noted that if both parents work for the county, they would have to split the twelve weeks between the two parents. 

Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said the paid parental leave was an important step for the county to take, especially for those county employees making at or below the county average salary. According to the Census Bureau, the average median household income in Durham County is about $49,585. 

Prior to the new policy, county employees could take FMLA time off, which is unpaid. Now the county allows for paid time off for those parents (not just mothers!) who either have a newborn or are adopting a child under the age of five. What is also important here is that it extends to both parents because it is parental leave—so same-sex couples will also be able to take the time off for the birth or adoption of a child. 

And on top of the paid leave, employees making under $15 an hour, will be making just that, as the county has set its minimum wage at that figure. 

"I think the $15 is a good place for us to move to," Commissioner Brenda Howerton said. 

The increased minimum wage will impact 832 employees in the county. Reckhow was hopeful the increased minimum wage would help with turnover in the county's Emergency Medical Services and at the jail. 

Jacobs says moving the minimum wage up will be able to help make many employees make more than $30,000 per year. 

"It's critical as we talk about poverty in our own community that we do what we can to support families," she says. Previously she says there were 861 county employees making under $30,000—which Jacobs said was "shocking to think about." 

The county also made changes to the donated leave policy—which allows for employees to donate up to forty hours of sick time to a bank, which can then be used for employees who have a long-term injury or illness and have depleted their leave times (including sick, vacation, and holiday). The donated leave policy does not allow for an employee to take donated time to care for a family member. 

Earlier this year the city of Durham also established a $15 minimum wage at the urging of the City Council. 

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