JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Tuesday announced a new city employee policy providing paid parental leave for mothers and fathers welcoming a new child to their family.
The mayor said the policy offering parents six weeks of paid leave following the birth or adoption of a child should be a reality for all city employees, including those of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and the Jacksonville Fire and Rescue Department, by this fall.
“I believe all families deserve an environment where parents and newborns get an opportunity to bond without the worry of work demands and stresses of a reduced income,” Mayor Curry said at a news conference Tuesday morning. “This new employee benefit recognizes the importance of our employees’ families and the valuable bonding time after the birth or adoption of a child."
Prior to the mayor's big announcement Tuesday, he and his wife, Molly Curry, sat down with News4Jax before addressing the public.
The Currys said it feels like just yesterday when their children -- now ages 13, 11 and 9 -- were babies and Mrs. Curry was a working mother on maternity leave.
An employee in the private sector back then, Mrs. Curry enjoyed six weeks of paid leave to bond with her first two children without worrying about being away from work.
"(I did not) have to worry about, you know, either taking vacation or using and having an unpaid leave," Mrs. Curry said. "So it really does take the stress off of you, and just to have that time you'll never get it back."
Jacksonville's first family said they're excited that the mayor's proposal is about to become a reality, providing the same six weeks of paid leave for all city employees, including fathers-to-be.
"It's really a new way of thinking," Mayor Curry said.
The mayor shared his proposal first with News4Jax last summer, explaining that the move won't cost taxpayers any additional money.
Mayor Curry then took his proposal to the police, fire and city unions that fall.
The mayor said it's taken a year to reach an agreement because parental leave was just one of so many topics discussed during collective bargaining.
"This is one of those issues where it was a no-brainer," Mayor Curry said. "Both sides were, (like), 'This is good for families.'"
The mayor believes expectant parents will be able to start enjoying six weeks of paid leave before the holidays.
"Beginning of October, city employees should be fully eligible and this should be done by the end of October, early November for police and fire," Mayor Curry said.
The measure still needs to go before the City Council, but with the backing of the police, fire and city unions, it's expected to pass with no problems.
The city said the policy is expected to go into effect Oct. 1.
City employees respond to mayor's announcement
Many city employees work 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., which can make it difficult to make doctor’s appointments. As for police officers and firefighters, many of them work overnight, forcing them to separate from their families during difficult hours. With the new policy, city employees' families won’t have to worry about that.
Under the preexisting policy, city employees can take up to 12 weeks of leave through the Family Medical Leave Act, but none of that is guaranteed paid and it doesn't include new fathers.
But the under the new policy announced by the mayor, six weeks of paid leave is guaranteed for new mothers and fathers. JSO Corrections Officer Ashley Myers, who is pregnant, said she and her husband are so thankful.
"(I'm looking forward to) no added stress, the financial ability to make sure my bills are paid, my babies are taken care of and I can pay for my health insurance and not have to worry," said Myers, who's been a corrections officer with JSO for more than four years.
JSO Officer Matt Herrera said when his wife had twins, he had to work overtime to earn extra money while she was on leave, keeping him away from his family during a critical time.
"For me to be home, 'Hey I’m home,' -- I’m dad. I’m not a police man," said Herrera, a 10-year veteran of JSO. "I’m dad and I can just help. It’s going to mean the world to her. So it’s really, really cool and I’m really excited about it."
Herrera said the new policy means more time together as a family and less worry.
According to the mayor's office, following ratification by City Council, Jacksonville would be among few city governments in the state to offer a paid parental leave policy.
For comparison, an employee working for St. Johns County is allowed to utilize sick leave and vacation time. Once that time is gone, any remaining time off is unpaid.
The town of Orange Park's 94 full-time employees are allowed to take up to 12 weeks of leave for the birth or adoption of a child. The town says employees may use any sick or vacation leave they have accrued for that time off and then the rest is unpaid.
According to The New York Times, the 20 largest employers in the United States now offer paid parental leave to at least some of their workers.
Lowe’s recently enacted a policy giving new mothers 10 weeks of paid leave, and all other parents -- including fathers and adoptive, foster and same-sex parents -- two weeks of paid leave.
The New York Times reported Walmart's paid leave policy for its employees includes 16 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers and six weeks of paid leave for all other parents. Amazon's policy offers 14 weeks, including four weeks prepartum, of paid leave for birth mothers and six weeks for other parents.