Other view: State family leave pitch overreaches

Minnesotans should give eyes-wide-open consideration to government's drive to "lead by example" in implementing employee-leave benefits.We'll hear plenty this election year about sick time and leave programs like the one Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled...

Minnesotans should give eyes-wide-open consideration to government’s drive to “lead by example” in implementing employee-leave benefits.
We’ll hear plenty this election year about sick time and leave programs like the one Gov. Mark Dayton unveiled last week to give all state employees six weeks of paid time off to care for a newborn or newly adopted child.
As the drumbeat for such benefits increases, there should be attention both to the implications of programs in the public sector and their influence on the private sector.
From a market-driven perspective, one would expect businesses to take a cost-justified approach to such policy, one that might enable a company to better compete to attract and retain employees.
That’s so, especially in a tight labor market like Minnesota has right now, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce Director of Energy and Labor-Management Policy Cam Winton said.
“Employers do need to attract and retain workers, and providing paid leave is a way to do so,” Winton said. “That’s why that notion of the one-size-fits-all mandate of government control is troubling.”
During the coming legislative session, the chamber, Winton said, will share best practices from Minnesota companies while advocating for “a voluntary approach where each company can be creative and figure out leave in a way that works for its workers and for the business itself.”
Rep. Sarah Anderson, a Republican from Plymouth, makes a worthy point when she asks, “Why was this not part of the bargaining process” between the state and its union workers?
The public sector already has so many protections in place, said Peter Nelson of the Center of the American Experiment, and benefits “that just aren’t found in the private sector.” Adding “yet one more benefit,” he said, “is hard to justify.”
The cost of the Dayton proposal was estimated at $6 million a year. Rather than adding new, ongoing costs, most of the estimate already is accounted for in “base” spending, a spokeswoman for Minnesota Management and Budget said, because budgets are set with the assumption that employees will work the full year. Some shifts would need to be filled, and the agency would pay other employees to cover that work; others might not be replaced, with their job functions picked up by colleagues. The potential for productivity loss is another factor in the cost of such programs, Nelson warns.
Eyes-wide-open consideration also involves a reality check about the complexity such proposals introduce, Nelson said. They sound simple, but they seldom are. He is confident a number of businesses will step forward and say, “This doesn’t work for me because …”
“All of a sudden, we’re going to have this long statute that says, ‘This is how it relates to part-time workers, this is how it relates to full-time workers, and small businesses, and large businesses, and new businesses and mature businesses’ and so on,” Nelson said.
When it comes to guiding principles that should shape the discussion at hand, Winton said, “The key is how to create a healthy economy for all Minnesotans. To do that, we need thriving businesses that have the flexibility they need to provide leave in a way that works for them.”
St. Paul Pioneer Press

Our View
Yesterday, the News Tribune opined that while the benefits of paid time off after the birth of a child are clear, Gov. Mark Dayton’s proposal to grant six weeks to new-parent state employees is devoid of details. There are just too many unknowns.
Read the editorial at

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