Advocates rally for paid family leave, lawmakers divided

ALBANY A push to make paid family leave mandatory in New York is gaining momentum.

There were only about a dozen advocates chanting at the Capitol Thursday but they represent about 6.4 million New Yorkers who currently do not have access to paid family leave.

"There are heartbreaking stories of people who were just in really economic dire straits at a time in their life when they had a new child or a sick child or a dying family member and they had no support," A Better Balance co-president and director Sherry Leiwant said.

A Better Balance has been helping collect petitions across the state.

"And we have 13,500 signatories," Leiwant said.

Paid family leave advocates also have the support of both the Assembly and Governor Cuomo.

The plan would be for employees to give a dollar a week from their paychecks in exchange for 12 weeks of paid time off. Workers could eventually get 50 percent of their salary as the proposal is phased in.

The problem is many small businesses are not on board.

"If you have a key person out for an extended period of time you're going to have to find a temporary replacement at a cost or have required overtime at a cost or do without," New York State Business Council Vice President Ken Pokalsky said.

Pokalsky is hoping lawmakers will hold off. His only hope may be Senate Republicans.

Senator George Amedore says the current plan needs to be modified to protect everyone involved.

"Really plan this thing out in a way that makes it affordable. Affordable for the employee, affordable for the employer and not some gimmick or program that just may not be sustainable where there could be a taxpayer bailout years down the road. We can't afford that," Amedore said.

The proposal would be a mandate on all employees. It is not something you can opt out of if you do not want or need to use it. That means all workers in New York would be charged a dollar a week, or 52 dollars a year.

If paid family leave passes the plan would be fully implemented by 2021. Right now only three other states in the nation have paid family leave.

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