Petworth residents push for paid family leave

By Adrienne Chu

Anyone winding through the obstacle course of strollers and toddlers at the Petworth Community Market on a Saturday morning would agree that Petworth is experiencing a serious baby boom. The numbers back up the anecdotal evidence — the Petworth-Brightwood-Crestwood area has seen faster growth in the number of children than any other DC neighborhood.

So it comes as no surprise that Petworth is home to fervent supporters of the paid leave legislation now before the DC Council. The bill, which will be introduced to the council on either November 15th or December 6th, originally gave all DC workers 16 weeks of paid leave. The final bill is expected to offer less than 12 weeks, which would still make it one of the most generous paid leave laws in the country. (This Washington Post story will help you catch up on how the bill has changed since it was introduced in 2015.)

“We live in a place where it’s actually possible to pass legislation like this,” said Petworth resident Anne Strauss. “It’s so exciting. We could be known as this amazing place for working families.”

Anne Strauss and Ana Lucia (Adrienne Chu)

Anne, a 38-year-old mother of fourth-grader Ana Lucia, is one of the bill’s champions. When Ana Lucia was born, she was not an easy baby. Anne found that the vacation she had saved up to supplement her employer’s short maternity leave still was not enough. She was lucky to have a supervisor that let her work part-time from home, slowly increasing her hours over time. But many workers, especially low-wage workers, do not have that kind of flexibility.

“It’s a no-brainer that we should have [paid leave] for everybody,” she said. “I wanted that time with my daughter. I’m not gonna get it back.”

Hannah Weilbacher, 24, another Petworth resident, is a community organizer for Jews United for Justice, the organization chosen to lead the push for paid leave. At first, as a young woman with marriage and children still far in the future, she did not feel a strong personal connection to the cause. But it didn’t take long for that to change.

“As I was working on it, I realized it was so relevant to me,” Hannah said. “My parents are getting older, and I don’t want to lose my job for taking care of them.”

Paid leave is most often thought of as a benefit for new mothers, but the proposal before the council is much more inclusive, offering the benefit to fathers, adoptive parents, and extended family for all kinds of serious medical problems.

Hannah says she is “cautiously optimistic” about the bill’s chances of passing.

“The question is what [the bill will contain],” Hannah said. “That’s where the fight is.”

For Petworth residents who support the legislation, that fight may be with their own representative on the council, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd. Todd says he supports the idea of paid family leave, but cannot get behind more than 8 weeks of paid leave, which is what the District currently offers government employees.

“It’s tough for me to say the private sector should offer more than we offer,” Todd said.

Todd is also concerned about how the District will fund the paid leave proposal. Todd said the 1% tax on businesses included in the original legislation might be better spent on more pressing issues, such as infrastructure—most prominently Metro—and schools. (This Washington Post editorial sums up the opposition to the paid leave legislation pretty well.) 

(Editorial note: From Drew's direct experience, many private sector jobs offer 8, 10 and 12 weeks of paid leave. There's no reason the DC government has to offer less than private sector. Governments should, when possible, lead for social issues, not lag behind.)

In fact, many small businesses in Petworth, including Timber Pizza and Annie’s Ace Hardware, welcome the proposed tax because by pooling their tax dollars with those of larger businesses, they would be able to offer a benefit to their employees they cannot afford on their own. (You can see a full list of DC businesses that support the legislation on the DC Paid Family Leave website. (Full disclosure, Petworth News is a supporter of the measure and is listed on the website.)

Julie Eisenberg, owner of Lighthouse Yoga Center, fully supports the paid leave legislation, especially after one of her teachers recently gave birth. Julie paid out of pocket to give the teacher a percentage of her salary for one month — the most Julie could afford — because she knew it “would be devastating” to the teacher’s family if she had to take her entire leave unpaid.

“A tax would be a lot easier and a lot fairer,” Julie said. “I would much rather have that than have to pay out of pocket. That’s a huge hit. There are no downsides [to the paid leave bill] as a business owner. Small businesses want this.”

Do you want this, too? Here are some ways to make your voice heard:

If you are a Ward 4 residentcontact Brandon Todd via his website

If you are a DC business owner who wants to sign on to support the cause, visit the DC Family Paid Leave website to learn more. 

If you are a DC resident who wants to tell the council you support paid leave legislation, use this pre-built form to send a message to your Councilmember.

Adrienne Chu

Adrienne Chu is a Tennessee native (Go Vols!) who moved to DC in 2007. She has worked as a journalist, editor, and elementary school teacher. She lives in north Petworth with her husband and two children.

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