Small Ohio Town Passes Progressive Parental Leave Policy

May 24, 20164:32 PM ET

Heard on All Things Considered

The Village of Newburgh Heights, outside Cleveland, is a working class community of about 2,500 residents. It's also home to the most progressive parental leave policy of any municipality in the nation. As of last week, full-time public employees will be eligible for six months of paid parental leave after the birth of a child.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The village of Newburgh Heights is a small suburb of Cleveland. It's working-class with a population of about 2,500. And it's now home to the most progressive parental leave policy for public employees in the U.S.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Six-months paid leave. That's for all of the village's full-time employees, women and men, biological parents and adoptive.

VICKI SHABO: When I saw the Newburgh Heights announcement, I was incredibly moved.

CORNISH: That's Vicki Shabo of the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, D.C. She advocates for and monitors parental leave policies around the country.

SHABO: It's a sweeping policy. And although we've seen a number of localities adopt policies for their own workers over the last year or two, this one is by far the most generous in terms of duration.

MCEVERS: The idea came from the mayor of Newburgh Heights. His name is Trevor Elkins.

TREVOR ELKINS: You know, my wife and I had a baby two years ago. We were fortunate to have a disability policy that allowed us to cover about 40 percent of our income - her income while she was home. I was fortunate to stay home for about three weeks. So that was kind of the start of it.

We - and then, you know, we thought more and more about it and, you know, what happens to those that might be less fortunate, they can't afford to take 12 weeks or six months of? They're immediately thrown back into the workplace without that real opportunity to bond with their child.

CORNISH: So coming out of his experience as a new dad, the mayor drafted the new parental leave policy. It passed the village council last week unanimously. And it went into effect the next day.

MCEVERS: Now, as we said, this is a small community. There are only 15 full-time employees - police officers, village hall staff. But it's all relative. They have a small budget, too. The council expects the new policy will cost about $40,000 a year on average.

ELKINS: We're not an affluent community, and we don't have deep pockets. A $40,000 impact on us, you know, is substantial. I mean, it's a large number. But it sends the message that, listen, our employees, we care about your time with your family. And I don't know that you can put a price tag on that.

CORNISH: Mayor Elkins thinks the village will benefit, too, helping to attract and retain the best staff.

ELKINS: This is something that says to families in a society that so often feels like employees are just being sucked dry for whatever they can provide to their employer, this says, hey, we get work-life balance.

MCEVERS: He says if Newburgh Heights can pull it off, there's no reason others in the public and private sector can't do the same.