A proposal to provide paid parental leave to Apex town employees stalled Tuesday after council members couldn’t come to a consensus or compromise on the policy.
Mayor pro tem Nicole Dozier proposed a policy that’s nearly identical to those adopted by Cary and Wake County. Both now offer their employees six weeks of paid leave within a year of a “qualifying event,” which is defined by the Family Medical Leave Act as the birth, adoption or fostering of a child.
Apex’s policy, like Cary’s, would apply to both parents, and a parent’s gender would not affect the amount of leave he or she would be eligible to receive. Durham County offers employees who become new parents 12 weeks of paid time off. Apex has 415 full-time employees, but only those who have been with the town for more than a year would be eligible.
Dozier first raised the idea in November at the council’s personnel committee, where fellow committee member Councilman Gene Schulze raised a variety of objections.
The town’s human resources staff endorsed the policy, and Tuesday’s work session was scheduled to focus on the subject and answer council members’ questions.
No formal action was taken, but Mayor Lance Olive said afterward that he prefers not to advance items that come out of their committees with a split recommendation, as this one had.
Without agreement from Schulze or definite support from other council members, Olive said he saw no reason to bring the proposal before the council again in its current form.
When Dozier brought her proposal before the full council earlier this month, it was met with a mix of responses. None of her colleagues were ready to endorse the proposal as presented without learning more.
Most council members’ opinions appeared unchanged by the end of Tuesday’s work session.
Schulze said Tuesday that he still sees no need to offer the benefit, given the variety of other demands being placed on the town’s budget.
A look at costs
Employees’ full salaries are included in each year’s budget and would be paid out as as normal, rather than being withheld during periods of leave. With the exception of emergency service employees, who often have to be replaced, most town departments typically deal with leave by having others assume the work of their absent colleagues, said Apex Human Resources Director Eleanor Green.
In that sense, the primary costs incurred by paid parental leave – contrasted with those of the unpaid leave already being taken – come from the additional amount of time an employee might choose to stay home and any additional resulting loss in productivity. Schulze warned of a “breaking point” and that “with a policy like this in place, everyone will take advantage of it.”
“To this day, I drive an 18-year-old car,” Schulze said. “My wife drives a 10-year-old van. We have a relatively small house, about 1,700 square feet. When we got married and had children, we made sacrifices and planned for it. That’s a decision we made.”
Councilman Wes Moyer told a similar story about how he and his wife handled the birth of their children, suggesting that paid leave might be unnecessary if families are well-prepared.
“We made the decision for my wife to stay home with our four kids, and I was the only one making an income,” Moyer said. “We had to make a decision together that, OK, I have to go back to work. My perspective is the other end, which is we make the sacrifices in our household.”
Councilman Bill Jensen said he supports paid parental leave but wasn’t sold on the specifics of the policy. Councilwoman Denise Wilkie agreed at the end of the work session to continue discussions with Dozier about how to move forward.
“I had to take a lot of time unpaid, and at that time, the state wouldn’t pay my insurance, so I had to pay my insurance while I was on unpaid leave,” said Wilkie, who recently retired from a career teaching at Apex High School. “We were a young couple without a ton of money. We were trying to make it, and dealing with the diapers and everything else was expensive.”
Raleigh and Morrisville are also considering paid family leave policies, and Green said the town could soon be at a competitive disadvantage.
“If these municipalities around us were to adopt it, I do think this puts us in a place where the quality applicants are going to look elsewhere,” Green said. “Women, especially in public safety, will have offers from these places, and if they’re looking at the benefits package, our pay is relatively the same and insurance premiums are higher here than in Cary and Durham. If they have parental leave, it could be a factor.”
Schulze said his opinion on paid parental leave “is not a question of whether we value employees.”
“We have the best employees, bar none,” he said.
But he said he might reconsider his position if data shows that Apex is missing out on qualified candidates because it doesn’t offer the benefit.
About two dozen supporters of the measure, many of them members of the nonprofit family advocacy group MomsRising, attended the work session. Because it was a work session rather than a public hearing, none were allowed to speak as they did at the Feb. 7 council meeting.
Gargan: 919-829-4807; @hgargan