Chobani to give paid family leave to all employees: a growing trend?

Beginning in 2017, all employees of the popular yogurt company will be eligible for paid parental leave.

Stuart Ramson/AP/File
Former President Bill Clinton and Hamdi Ulukaya, founder of Chobani and the nonprofit Tent Foundation, discuss the role of the private sector in helping refugees at the Clinton Global Initiative Winter Meeting in New York, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016. The Tent Foundation was founded to bring innovative approaches into the refugee crisis.

Every new parent deserves six weeks paid leave, says Chobani's founder, following the recent birth of his own first child.

In an impassioned blog post published Wednesday, Chobani founder and chief executive Hamdi Ulukaya announced that starting in 2017, all Chobani employees, both hourly and salaried, will be offered six weeks of paid family leave following the birth, adoption, or placement of a foster child in their home.

“It was important to me that everyone at the company have this time – especially the people in our plants,” Mr. Ulukaya wrote, reflecting the reality that most American hourly factory workers are denied access to paid leave when they or their spouse have a child. “From the top down, we’ll encourage our folks to use this time knowing their careers at this company won’t be affected by it.”

Currently only three US states – California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island – require companies to offer paid parental leave. Meanwhile, of the 193 countries in the United Nations, 185 have national laws mandating paid leave. The United States joins Papua New Guinea, Lesotho, and Suriname, as well as several small Pacific Island states, in offering no paid leave whatsoever.

“As a founder and a father, the birth of my son opened my eyes to the fact that the vast majority of America’s workers, especially those in manufacturing, don’t have access to paid family leave when they have a new child. And for fathers, that gap is even wider,” Ulukaya wrote.

A 2011 survey from the Boston College Center for Work and Family of nearly 1000 male white collar workers found that 96 percent took less than two weeks off following the birth of their most recent child, with 99 percent feeling “that their supervisor expect[ed] no change to occur to their working patterns as the result of their becoming parents.” 

Mothers don't have it much better. A piece by NPR on Tuesday titled, "On Your Mark, Give Birth, Go Back To Work," describes an employee of a small business in Wyoming who receives no paid time off, so could not afford to stay home more than three weeks after the birth of her baby.

"The US is absolutely the only high-income country that doesn't" provide paid maternity leave, Jody Heymann of UCLA's Fielding School of Public Health told NPR.

While prominent tech companies such as Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple have revised their parental leave policies in order to attract and retain top-level talent, only 12 percent of employees across the country receive any form of paid family leave, according to the US Department of Labor.

Lawmakers who support paid parental leave are fighting an uphill battle. In January, when New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo floated a paid family leave proposal for all workers in the state, the state director of the National Federation of Independent Businesses challenged the proposal as an attack on small business.

“In a year where small business is fighting a disastrous minimum wage proposal, the thought of government mandating a paid leave requirement speaks to the larger narrative that the governor is clearly threatening the viability of small business in New York,” said NFIB's Mike Durant, reported the Albany Business Journal.

Clearly the head of New York-based Chobani feels differently.

Both the Republican and Democrat presidential candidates have proposed plans for paid family leave. Donald and Ivanka Trump recently announced a plan for 6 weeks of fully paid maternity leave, paid for through unemployment insurance. Hillary Clinton's proposal would ensure that parents and caretakers who take 12 weeks of FMLA leave would receive at least two-thirds of their wages, paid for by a tax on the wealthy.

For Chobani, company-wide benefits are not new. In April, Ulukaya announced that should the company ever be sold or made public in an IPO, every employee would receive equity in the company.

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