Dayton, Ohio was the first city in Ohio to pass paid parental leave. And recently I had the opportunity to sit down with Mayor of Dayton (rock star and all-around nice person), Nan Whaley, to discuss why:
Q: How did paid leave come about in Dayton?
A: My senior aide, as well as a lot of other young people working for the City of Dayton, were getting pregnant. I don’t have children, but I witnessed how terrible the FMLA process was for them. About the same time, the progressive think tank Innovation Ohio shared a study with me that showed the benefits – including attracting and retaining talent – of paid parental leave.
We changed our policy in August 2015, so it’s been about a year. We’ll do an update on its impact shortly, but so far 64 out of 1,900 employees have used it. That’s a good clip and shows how young our organization is. Also, it’s been more men than women, and I’m really proud of that.
Seeing policemen and firemen taking paternity leave is a great sign there’s recognition, at least in Dayton, that there’s shared responsibility for children. We know in order for us to get at the heart of true engagement of women in the workforce, men have to play a larger roll at home.
Q: Did you know Dayton would be the first city in Ohio with paid leave?
A: I didn’t! I knew others had been talking about it, including Cincinnati (55 miles south of Dayton). The day we passed it, Valerie Jarrett at the White House called and told us what a big deal it was. We were taken aback. We were just doing it because we thought it was the right thing to do for our community and the people who work for us. It was a great surprise for us.
Q: Has paid leave been expensive for Dayton?
A: We’ve found it to be pretty revenue neutral. There’s a bit of overtime, but it’s not a big lift. It really costs so little money, the cost is negligible to cover.
We’re serious about attracting and retaining strong talent. When our employees know we care about their families, it creates affinity. And when you treat an employee well, they do their job well. There’s more buy-in from employees when policies like this happen.
I’ve heard people say that work steals people’s time from their families, so paid leave has been very helpful in countering that. Further, studies show that when people come back to work too early, their minds are not on work and they’re not productive. We want to give people space so when they do come back to work they can be productive and do well.
Paid leave has been a good value for Dayton.
Q: Have other cities in Ohio followed Dayton's lead on leave?
A: Cincinnati passed leave a week later. The cities were talking about paid leave at the same time, but it worked out that we were the first one. Now they call it “The Dayton Plan” in Cincinnati. We’re really proud of that! Other municipalities in Ohio are working on it as well. Councilmember Liz Brown in Columbus, Councilmember Liz Walters in Summit County (Akron). In Ohio, it’s been women elected officials and Cincinnati Mayor John Cranley.
Q: How does the policy work in Dayton?
A: The policy provides 4 weeks of paid leave following 2 weeks of unpaid leave upon the birth or adoption of a child. The paid leave is at 70% of an employee’s regular rate of pay. Employees can access their accrued sick, personal, or vacation leave time — even if they have not been with the City of Dayton long enough to otherwise access that leave — in order to be paid during the waiting period or to supplement the 70% payment.
Q: Were the unions involved?
A: A labor union didn’t negotiate with us for paid leave, but they’ve been hugely supportive of it. Right now, the unions are really vocal about sick leave and higher wages, while parental leave is seen as more of a niche issue, a woman’s issue. The more activism we can do around parental leave, the more I think labor will pick it up. It’s a win that does not cost a lot of money but shows employees that an organization cares about their families.
Q: How would you suggest an employee talk to his or her employer about the need for paid leave?
A: Talk to your supervisor and leadership, and share the data showing it’s not a big cost but the benefits are great. Also, do some organizing in your workgroup. Bring together employees with young families, and let the leadership know this is a big issue. Having others’ buy-in shows it’s not just a one-person idea. (See our guides for more on this).
Q: What about constituents reaching out to their legislators?
A: The legislature needs to hear that this is something valuable, that this is something we need! We’re at a breaking point where the productivity of Americans is so high, but there are so many organizations not using talent because the system doesn’t work or is not flexible. This is really unfortunate. If we’re serious about families, and we say we are, than we need systems in place to help families. People talk about families all the time, but when it comes to feeding children or allowing families to have time with their kids, they need a higher wage and flexibility to get there.
Q: What do you think the ideal structure for paid leave would be in the United States?
A: That’s a hard one for me. We would like to be able to do more in Dayton. I don’t think America can suddenly be number one on paid parental leave in the world considering how far behind we are. I would like for us to start with 12 weeks of paid parental leave. And I would add not just for the birth of a child but also adoption, because it’s about making that important connection in that very important time. I’d love to see a federal law, but I think it will likely be state by state.
For The City of Dayton’s Paid leave policy, click here.
About Mayor Nan Whaley
Nan Whaley was elected mayor of Dayton in 2013. Prior to that, she served on the Dayton City Commission, where she was the youngest woman ever elected for a Commission seat. Her career is distinguished by her commitment to public service, civic involvement, and interest in local government.