Close to Home: Closing child care gaps is equity

A Press Democrat editorial said there was an “unwanted side effect” in the emergency paid sick leave ordinance passed by the Santa Rosa City Council on July 7 (“An unwanted side effect of a needed benefit,” July 17). The editorial was referring to the part of the ordinance that would allow a worker to use paid sick leave to care for a loved one at full pay. This is what the City Council decided to make happen for our essential workers.

Yes, Santa Rosa did increase the cap of the family leave benefit to $511 a day. However, this doesn’t mean an employer will automatically be paying that amount under this part of the ordinance. For that to be true, their employee would need to be earning over $60 an hour, and we know most essential workers earn much less.

Mara Ventura
Mara Ventura
Maddy Hirshfield
Maddy Hirshfield

For example, a minimum wage worker making $15 an hour at 40 hours a week would cost an employer $156 a day, and this includes payroll taxes. In addition, for businesses with 500 employees or less, this entire expense – up to the $511 cap – is tax deductible. And many Santa Rosa businesses have received federal Paycheck Protection Program loans that turn into grants if the money is used for payroll.

Under the Santa Rosa ordinance, a business with fewer than 50 employees can still claim a hardship should an employee request the child or elder care benefit by saying they cannot afford it. If the employee challenges this, the employer would need to back up their claim with proof. So low-wage workers in the midst of trying to figure out how to care for their loved one, while simultaneously working their jobs, will have the burden of deciding if they will challenge their employer through the legal system, while bearing the cost, time and language barriers. How likely is that to happen, and who is more disadvantaged here?

Truth is, the bulk of caretaking in our families more heavily falls on women than men. These are most often low-wage women of color who cannot afford the luxury of a nursing home or an in-home caretaker. And who are the bulk of child care workers in Sonoma County? You guessed it, low-wage women of color and immigrant women with no labor protections or access to health care.

When Congress, a body of mostly older white men, passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act with paid sick leave and decided that child and elder care should be valued less, effectively what they did was extend existing barriers for working women and immigrant women who bear the brunt of caretaking in America.

To this, the Santa Rosa City Council said, no, we will not disadvantage low-wage workers and make it even more difficult for them to provide care for a loved one during this unprecedented pandemic. Never should caring for family be considered an “unwanted side effect.” If we truly are all in this together, we should value the care of all family members, particularly family most vulnerable to COVID-19.

We applaud the Santa Rosa City Council for acknowledging that caring for vulnerable loved ones should never be devalued as we navigate this dangerous and unfamiliar terrain. We hope our Board of Supervisors follows in their footsteps of equity.

Mara Ventura is executive director of North Bay Jobs with Justice, and Maddy Hirshfield is political director for the North Bay Labor Council.

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