Georgetown University’s employees should not have to choose between risking their jobs and caring for their sick family members. Yet, the Georgetown administration may be creating this impossible choice for many of its employees — and workers throughout D.C. — by lobbying for harmful, anti-worker changes to the Universal Paid Family Leave Act.
In February 2017, the D.C. Council passed the Universal Paid Family Leave Act, which guarantees all individuals who work in the District eight weeks of paid parental or maternal leave, six weeks of paid family leave and two weeks of paid sick leave for every 52 weeks worked.
Although Georgetown likes to present itself as an advocate for worker rights, the university is turning its back on workers by pushing for changes to this legislation that would make family leave pay difficult for workers to obtain.
As it stands, the act is one of the most comprehensive pieces of paid family leave legislation in the nation and will provide much-needed paid leave for workers once implemented in July 2020. In its current form, the act will be funded by an employee payroll tax collected by the D.C. Department of Employment Services. Workers would file a leave claim, notify their employee of their leave requests and receive leave payments directly from DOES.
Rather than allowing the act to go into effect as is, Georgetown’s administration, alongside other unnamed D.C. universities, is lobbying to change the bill to allow large employers — such as universities — to opt out of the social insurance system. Rather than paying the standard tax, employers who opt out would pay a reduced tax and would be responsible for administering leave policies of their own, under the condition those policies meet the requirements set by the Act.
Although this proposal may seem reasonable, these changes are deeply concerning and would be harmful to both Georgetown employees and D.C. workers.
First, any proposed changes to the act would delay its implementation by up to a year, as DOES would have to spend more time preparing for the act’s implementation and would have to undo some of the work it has already accomplished.
Such a delay would mean one more year of workers having to choose between a paycheck and spending time with their newborn children, taking care of an elderly family member or staying home while sick.
Additionally, the changes Georgetown is lobbying for would create more challenges for workers with multiple employers. Rather than receive their leave pay from one central location, employees would have to file with each of their employers and receive multiple partial payments, which puts a logistical burden on workers and decreases their financial stability. For many of the subcontracted and part-time workers at Georgetown, this change would mean more time spent on paperwork and making sure leave payments arrive, and less time taking care of themselves and their families.
Georgetown’s proposed changes would also incentivize employers to punish or not hire workers who request leave. Under the current proposal, the number of workers who take leave does not change their employer’s bottom line, as the employers are not directly responsible for the compensation. If businesses were permitted to opt out and pay leave claims directly, employers would have incentive to discourage workers from filing leave and engage in discriminatory practicing hires against women who may become pregnant, individuals with chronic illness or other individuals who may need to file claims.
Georgetown claims the opt-out option would only be available to employers with “a proven track record of offering these benefits.” Georgetown includes itself in that category, despite not offering leave meeting the act’s standards to its adjunct faculty, graduate assistants, subcontracted employees, part-time university employees, full-time male university employees and male-tenured faculty.
Georgetown should remember its commitment to its values and to its workers. Strong workers’ rights are not a marketing technique to be traded away whenever it is convenient, but a goal this university should be consistently pursuing. Georgetown must stop lobbying to make life harder for workers, and instead prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable among us.
Logan Arkema and Jessica Richards are sophomores in the College. Esmi Huerta is a senior in the School of Foreign Service.