When U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez arrives in the Twin Cities Tuesday to promote paid family leave, he'll be speaking mostly to the choir.
St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, who will join Perez as he makes a scheduled visit to UCare — the fourth-largest health plan in Minnesota — already have helped push through policies that give the employees of their cities paid parental leave, following the city of Bloomington's lead.
And UCare launched a plan this year that provides six weeks of paid leave for new moms and three weeks of paid leave for their partners or adopting parents.
The entourage also will be joined by Gov. Mark Dayton, a longtime advocate of women's rights who spearheaded the drive last year to expand the state's unpaid parental leave policy from six weeks to 12.
The Minnesota Department of Health published a report in March that said: "Paid maternity leave contributes to better maternal mental and physical health, better prenatal and postnatal care, more breast-feeding, and greater parent/infant bonding."
The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce took a position against paid parental leave — "no matter how it is financed." It argues that employers, "in consultation with their employees," should determine the type and scope of benefits.
A bill to provide paid family leave for Minnesota workers failed to make it through the Legislature this year.
Perez is on a nationwide tour to rally support for paid parental leave. The Labor Department's website notes that a woman in Germany gets 14 weeks of paid parental leave. By contrast, it says that the United States is the only developed nation in the world without any paid maternity leave.
Perez said he's been fortunate in his own life to have jobs that let him devote time to his children. Only 12 percent of private sector workers have access to paid leave nationally, he said. About 14 percent of Minnesotans do, according to the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry.
"You shouldn't have to choose between the family you love and the job that you need," he said in public relations materials about his tour.
Perez highlighted legislation in Rhode Island, which in 2013 became the third state in the country to pass a law that guarantees workers paid leave so they could bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill child, spouse or family member.
Perez also will visit Minneapolis Community and Technical College, together with Hodges and U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, to discuss President Obama's proposal to make two years of community college free for responsible students.