While state lawmakers have been openly striving this week for an accord between Republicans and DFLers, some have also been quietly reaching for a grand bargain between two other entrenched rivals — business and labor.
With the 2016 Legislature due for adjournment Monday, those efforts should go public — and the public should cheer them on. An opportunity exists to pre-empt city moves to regulate private-sector employee benefits, which employers much desire, in exchange for launching a state-administered paid family leave program for workers, a top priority for labor.
Seizing this opportunity won’t be easy. It would derail a proposed private-sector paid sick leave requirement in Minneapolis that is on a fast track toward City Council adoption later this month, and it would stop a similar move afoot in St. Paul. For some labor activists, that would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
The contemplated bargain also asks much of employers. They would need to swallow some version of a paid family leave requirement they have resisted all session. Creation of a paid leave program won approval in the DFL-controlled Senate, but a bill did not get so much as a hearing in the GOP-controlled House.
Yet the pain this proposed trade-off would inflict seems well-balanced by the gains it offers. Employers would be spared the complicated and costly patchwork of rules and record-keeping that would be imposed on them if local governments go their own way on employee benefits. Cities would be spared the exodus of footloose employers that could ensue.
For workers, the bargain would create the nation’s first state paid family leave program to be financed jointly by workers and employers via payroll deductions. Under the Senate’s bill, firms with 21 or more workers would be required to participate; they could opt out if they provide similar benefits and opt in if they employ 20 or fewer. The deductions contemplated are small — for example, at a fully participating company, an employee earning $50,000 a year would pay 87 cents per week. When the program is fully implemented, participating employees would be eligible for partial wage replacement for leaves related to pregnancy, bonding with a new child or caregiving for a seriously ill family member.
If the measure of a good bargain is one that simultaneously inflicts pain and pleasure on both sides, this one strikes us as good indeed. We hope to see some version of it in legislative daylight very soon.