Town of Potsdam not opting into state Paid Family Leave program
By CRAIG FREILICH
POTSDAM -- The Town Council have voted to not include town employees in the state's new paid family leave program.
Under the program, which takes effect this month, nearly all private employers must participate, with many deducting the small contributions to the fund from employees' pay. But public employers including town workers are not required to add their workers to pay into the fund and get the benefits of the act.The town board at its meeting Wednesday night decided not to opt in once Town Attorney Francis Cappello confirmed that to include town workers would require renegotiation of the contracts of office and highway department employees represented by the Teamsters Union.
If the town went ahead and opted in, it would require payroll deductions to be sent to the state fund, and if the board acted alone it could result in a grievance from the unions, board members agreed.
Sarah Lister, the town board's newest councilor and a SUNY Potsdam employee, said she wished she could benefit from the program since she is now pregnant, but being an employee of the college, which has not opted into the program, she could not. Opting in could only happen if the union that represents her office, United University Professions, completed negotiations for a new contract that included a family leave agreement. The last UUP contract expired in 2016.
Lister said she spoke with Assemblywoman Addie Jenne's Communications Coordinator Ryne Martin who explained state units were in a situation similar to that of the town regarding potential conflicts with current union contracts.
The Paid Family Leave Act provides for time off with pay for employees who have a newborn, a newly adopted child or new foster child in the household, giving them time to bond; employees who will care for a family member with a serious health condition; or employees who will assist loved ones when a family member is deployed abroad on active military service.
As of this year, workers can get roughly 50 percent of their average wage for eight weeks. The length of time and rate of pay will increase in steps through 2021.
The coverage is available to people who have full-time status working 20 or more hours a week after working 26 consecutive weeks, or part-timers who work fewer than 20 hours a weeks after working 175 days, not necessarily consecutively.
Employees may but are not required to deduct a maximum of $1.65 a week from paychecks to pay for the family leave coverage through the company's existing disability insurance policy, or under other arrangements.