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Grosso tackles pay gap, student debt, and out-of-school time as Council returns to work

For Immediate Release: 
September 20, 2016
Matthew Nocella, (202) 724-8105

Grosso tackles pay gap, student debt, and out-of-school time as Council returns to work

Washington, DC – The Council of the District of Columbia returned from its annual summer recess today and Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) wasted no time proposing solutions to challenges faced by the District of Columbia. The gender and racial pay gap, funding for critical out-of-school time activities, and the growing student debt problem were the focus of new legislation introduced by the councilmember.

Closing the District Wage Gap

Grosso introduced the Fair Wage Amendment Act of 2016 to address persistent pay inequities for women, especially women of color, face in D.C.

“Equal pay for equal work is a simple concept. Yet, even in D.C. the wage gap that women experience persists,” said Grosso.

The bill would prohibit employers in the city from requesting information about a prospective employee’s salary and benefit history before an employer makes a job and compensation offer.  This would help to end a practice that perpetuates the wage gap.

“Leaving a job that is unfairly compensating you is no guarantee that your pay will be much better when employers make job offers based on previous, deflated wages. We can break that cycle.”

According to the National Partnership for Women and Families, women in D.C. make 90 cents for every dollar paid to men.  It’s much worse for women of color: African-American women earn just 56 cents on the dollar and Latinas just 50 cents when compared to white, non-Hispanic men.

Addressing Student Loan Debt

Grosso also introduced the Student Loan Ombudsman Establishment and Servicing Regulation Act of 2016 to address the increasing burden student loans are placing on D.C. residents

“Growing student debt presents a serious challenge for our residents and our local economy, creating a burden that follows them and stifles every aspect of their lives: buying a house, starting a business, saving for retirement, and furthering their education,” Grosso said.  “This bill is a first step that assists District borrowers and increases servicer accountability.”

The bill would create an ombudsman in the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking empowered to establish licensing requirements for student loan servicers in the city.  They would also be charged with informing D.C. residents about their options when seeking student loans and when working to repay them.

Recommitting to Youth Development

Finally, Grosso, along with Councilmember Brianne Nadeau, introduced the Office of Youth Outcomes and Grants Establishment Act of 2016.  The bill establishes a framework for greater strategy-setting, coordination and funding for out-of-school programming.

Out-of-school time programming has myriad benefits to youth who participate, improving their educational, behavioral, and physical health outcomes. Funding for such programming currently comes from many government agencies, including grants to youth-serving groups via the D.C. Trust, which dissolves on September 30.

“What we are proposing today provides equitable access to quality out-of-school time services, which we know help best position our students to succeed,” Grosso said. “As Chairperson of the Committee on Education, I see this coordinated, data-driven, multi-agency effort as an opportunity to create real results, insulated from the political manipulation and financial impropriety of the past.”

The bill establishes both an Office and a Commission on Youth Outcomes and Grants charged with overseeing inter-agency coordination, tracking data and assessing need and outcomes, and making grants to organizations that provide out-of-school programming to District of Columbia youth.

“This legislation is informed by the efforts led by the Deputy Mayors for Health and Human Services and Education to plot the next steps for our out of school time efforts in light of the Trust’s dissolution. I look forward to continuing to work with them and other stakeholders to incorporate their input as we move through the legislative process.”


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Grosso's opening statement at hearing on the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015

Thank you, Chairman Mendelson.  I would like to thank you for scheduling and holding this hearing today and for your thoughtful approach to constructing a witness list that will allow us to hear diverse perspectives on the “Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015.”

At this point, we are all aware that as introduced, Bill 21-415, “The Universal Paid Leave Act” will establish a fund that will enable workers in the District of Columbia to receive up to 16 weeks of paid leave for a major life event such as birth or adoption of a child, caring for a sick family member, or for self-care.  The fund will be supported by payments from employers, the self-employed, and certain individual employees.

Since I became a Councilmember, I have been exploring ways to support our working families.  In 2014, I introduced legislation that was later incorporated in the Budget Support Act that allowed for D.C. government employees to be eligible for 8 weeks paid leave.  At that time, I made the promise to continue the work started on paid leave and to study how we could expand this policy to all workers in the District of Columbia. 

As Chairperson of the Committee on Education, I believe that investing in our families will benefit the lives of all of our residents and our city’s children.  This bill will help workers take the time they need to support their families or themselves without having to make the hard choice between a pay check and their loved one’s immediate needs.  Study after study has shown that forms of paid leave are good for children, parents, and the elderly.


The long-term effects of this bill are good for our businesses.  It will increase a person’s likelihood to return to work after a qualifying event, therefore decreasing the costs associated with employee turnover.  It will make the District of Columbia a city where people want to work and live, and it will give all of our businesses a competitive edge for offering progressive benefits packages at a lower cost than they can now.

Prior to introduction and since, I have met or spoken directly with the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, the Board of Trade, the Hospital Association, the Restaurant Association, the Hotel Association, Georgetown University, Trinity College, small business owners, union leaders, and individuals to review all of the variables of the legislation.  In these meetings, the conversations have been thoughtful, and open from all parties to find ways that we can explore to make this legislation possible for as many employees as we can and with low cost burdens to our employers.  

During the drafting process, my staff and I worked to model the implications of such a robust program to provide for our families and residents.  We looked at tax numbers, employee numbers, and the preliminary findings of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research which has been studying our current paid leave policies in the D.C. Government.   I understand the desire of constituents and business leaders to have more sophisticated models and deeper sets of numbers, but the fact is that pulling, analyzing, and compiling this data is technical and complicated and it is not until legislation is introduced that we can set the wheels in motion for sound research.

As written, the bill has over ten variables that if adjusted would lower the cost of the bill or the burdens on employers or residents.  In our conversations about the proposed legislation, I have heard many of the concerns and believe there are shifts that can be made and we are analyzing all of them closely.   

As the bill moves through the hearing process at the Council, I am working closely with our Chief Financial Officer, the Council budget office, Chairman Mendelson, businesses, and advocates to fill out the details of what options we have for providing the best amount of paid family and medical leave for the maximum number of D.C residents, while ensuring that we are covering low income workers who are least likely to have access to any form of paid leave.

Today, we start the public conversation about the proposed bill and the variables that are problematic for some or are supported by others.  The hearing process is one that is essential for having an open and transparent conversation, so that we can speak frankly and have our positions placed on the record.  This is the beginning of an engaging process with all parties; it may take time and at times we may not agree, but I do believe that in the end, we will have a working program that our city can be proud of and D.C. can continue being a national policy leader. 

It is important to note that I am not naïve and have not taken up this proposal lightly.  It was not quickly drafted or without serious thought.  I knew two years ago that this process would not be easy.  With serious thought come reservations about the consequences – both intended and unintended – for everyone this bill will affect.  Frankly, the consequences that matter the most to me are the ones primarily affecting our residents: the infants who are born prematurely, the mothers forced back to work two weeks postpartum, and the sick or injured elderly parents with little to no access to quality care. 

I do not take the effects this bill will have on businesses lightly and that is why we are here today, asking you how we can be industry leaders and make systematic changes to the way we treat the people who work in the District of Columbia.

Yes, I have heard some of you say “we are moving fast and we are getting ahead of the rest of the nation on paid leave” and to that I ask: are we really moving that quickly or are we actually way behind?  Why should we not lead on policies that support businesses, expand industries and also allow working families to care for themselves and their loved ones?   

With that, I want to thank everyone who is here today or is submitting testimony for the record.  I appreciate the time that you have all taken, regardless of your position on the bill, to study it and provide us with your feedback.

I look forward to the testimony and engaging in a robust dialogue with the witnesses.    



Businesses Criticize D.C. Paid-Leave Bill, But Struggle To Offer Alternatives

By Martin Austermuhle, December 2, 2015, WAMU

Business groups representing just about every industry in the District — from hotels and restaurants to retailers and builders — strongly criticized a proposed paid-leave bill during a D.C. Council hearing on Wednesday, but struggled to offer alternatives or possible changes to the measure when pressed by legislators.

The groups said the bill — which would offer virtually all D.C. workers up to 16 weeks of paid family leave, with the costs covered by a per-employer tax on employers — would dramatically increase operating costs for local businesses, many of which would stop hiring or leave the city altogether.

"This bill would kill D.C. jobs," said Harry Wingo of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce. "This would revive D.C.’s reputation as a high-tax, business-unfriendly place," offered Charles Miller of the Federal City Council. “At the end of the day, you can’t take leave from a job you don’t have or doesn’t exist," warned Cailey Locklair Tolle of the Maryland Retailers Association.

Others worried about the potential for abuse, criticized the lack of specifics on how much the measure could cost different businesses and organizations, and said that D.C. would be jumping far ahead of the three states that currently offer paid leave — both in how much time is given and who would pay for it.

But the consistent drumbeat of criticisms drew pointed questions from Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who pressed the groups to offer alternatives to the bill — or outline specific changes they would want seen to make the bill more agreeable.

In one particularly animated exchange, he asked Wingo a series of questions about whether the business community could support the overall concept of paid leave for workers. "Do you agree that benefits are beneficial to employees? Is it best for employers if they pay no benefits to their employees?"

Changes likely

Mendelson's questioning seemed to reflect the political reality surrounding the bill, which was introduced in October. With a majority of the Council already supporting the measure — and polling showing it has drawn wide support from residents — he said earlier this week that whether the bill passes isn't the question, but rather what would be included in a final version.

As currently written, the bill would require all private employers to contribute to a fund from which leave benefits would be paid. Workers making up to $52,000 a year would have their full salary covered, while those making more would see a declining percentage of everything above the $52,000 covered. The top pay-out would be $3,000 per week.

"This bill is for people who have to make heartbreaking choices," said Council member Elissa Silverman (I-At Large). She said it would help people take time to care for newborns or ailing relatives, some of whom currently have no paid leave at all.

But in moving towards that goal, Council member David Grosso (I-At Large) — who with Silverman introduced the bill — said the sweeping measure wasn't set in stone. "As written, the bill has 10 variables that would lower the costs on businesses," he said, offering critics a chance to offer changes.

And some business leaders did. Jim Dinegar of the Greater Washington Board of Trade said he would want the issue addressed at the federal level, to avoid creating a regional imbalance where one jurisdiction would offer paid leave while others didn't.

Kathy Hollinger of the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington said leave should be limited to workers who have been on the job for at least one year, and asked that provisions requiring employers to notify their workers of paid-leave rights be simplified.

And Steve Hoffman, who owns a local insurance company that has operated in the city since 1906, asked that the leave be cut to eight weeks — and that it be paid for in part by the employee taking the leave. Without some changes, he worried the increased costs would force him to move — or close.

"We've always felt the need to stay and pay back a city that has given us so much," he said. "But if the [bill] passes in its present form, we will have to consider leaving the District because we compete against not only D.C. agents, but also agents across the country."

Containing costs

It was concerns like those that prompted Mendelson to ask proponents of the bill — who largely spoke in personal terms about the bill — to address the costs of implementing paid leave.

"There is a cost to this," he said to a panel of advocates for the bill. "There's no question [paid leave] would help children, families and low-income folks. It could change a whole lot of social problems we have. That's not the issue. I need you to speak to the cost."

"We have to wait until we get the actual calculations of what it would cost to provide this benefit," said Ed Lazere of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, speaking to a reality that hung over the hearing throughout the day — no final calculations on the bill's costs have been produced, nor has a study funded by the U.S. Labor Department on a number of paid-leave proposals for D.C. been finalized.

But even without those specifics in place, Lazere pushed back on the argument that it would drive businesses to close or into the surrounding states.

"After raising the minimum wage, they don't tend to lose employees, they don't tend to move. Businesses are flexible, they can respond to the added costs through a variety of means," he said.

Proponents also said that the bill could actually serve to help small businesses that can't currently afford to offer any leave, and pointed out that more and more large businesses are instituting paid-leave policies as a means to attract and retain top talent.

At one point, Silverman noted that Wingo of the Chamber of Commerce once worked for Google, which recently implemented an 18-week paid-leave policy. She also pointed out that Miller of the Federal City Council doubles as a senior attorney at Covington and Burling, a powerhouse legal firm that also offers 18 weeks of paid leave.

That raised another concern on the bill — what happens with businesses and organizations that already offer paid leave? John Cavanaugh, speaking on behalf of the Consortium of Universities, noted that the city's 10 universities were extremely concerned with how the measure would affect the leave they already offer.

"The consortium strongly supports the concept of paid leave, and has several types of paid leave in effect as evidence," he said. "The consortium opposes the unfunded mandate that will cost institutions in the District $15 million per year to implement a one-size-fits-all program that may not address the needs of our employees."

The diverse groups that could be affected by the paid-leave bill will have a chance to continue weighing in over the next few months, as Mendelson has said he will call at least two more hearings before any further action is taken on the proposal.

And despite uncertainty over what form the bill could ultimately take, Council member Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) — who supports the measure — said that even having the debate is a positive step forward.

"I doubt the legislation will emerge in same form, but it starts the conversation," she said. "It’s a conversation that’s long overdue."



Grosso Introduces Universal Paid Leave Legislation

For Immediate Release

October 6, 2015

Contact: Darby Hickey

(202) 724-8105


Grosso Introduces Universal Paid Leave Legislation

Washington, D.C.--Today, Councilmember David Grosso (I-At Large) introduced the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015, along with Councilmembers Silverman, Allen, Nadeau, May, McDuffie, and Cheh. This legislation, which would give 16 weeks paid leave to all workers in D.C., follows Grosso’s success last year to give D.C. government employees 8 weeks of paid family medical leave.

 “As a country we lag behind the rest of the world on family leave—we need pro-family policies that encourage care taking and nurturing,” said Grosso. “The Universal Paid Leave Act will support our D.C. workers and families, while giving our local businesses a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining highly qualified employees.”

The bill, which Grosso co-wrote with Councilmember Silverman, would allow any employee in D.C., or any D.C. resident employed outside of the city, to access a government-run fund that would pay for up to 16 weeks of leave for a qualifying event. Qualifying events include a baby born or adopted, or major medical operations for the worker or a family member. The bill’s definition of family and major events are inclusive of the diversity of D.C.’s workers and families, including low-income workers, single-parent households, caregiving for non-child family members, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals, and more.

“In D.C. we have been a leader on paid sick days, on raising the minimum wage, and providing paid family leave for government employees,” said Councilmember Silverman. “With this legislation, we once again position D.C. as a national leader on policies that bolster our families, workers, and employers.”

“I am very supportive of this legislation", said Michael Visser of Flying Fish Coffee and Tea. "As a small business, the proposed program would allow me to support paid family leave that I otherwise could not afford,  not only for my own employees, but employees throughout the city."

Research shows that paid leave for either parent after the birth or adoption of a child has a significant positive outcome for the child’s future academic success. After California and New Jersey enacted paid leave programs, employers stated that the new law had a positive effect on employee retention, productivity, and profitability. Read more about the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 below.

To read a copy of the bill, click here.


The Universal Paid Leave Act creates a system for District of Columbia workers to receive up to 16 weeks of paid leave for a major life event such as birth or adoption of a child or caring for a sick or injured family member or for self-care.  District of Columbia employers would pay into a city managed fund on a per-employee basis estimated to be less than 1% of the payroll.

Who takes: Any person working in the district for 50% or more of the preceding year for any covered employer.  Self-employed individuals can pay in and be covered; private residents will pay in for themselves and be covered.  DC Government Employees would continue to get their salary during paid leaves, rather than being part of this system, but the number of weeks of leave would be raised from 8 to 16 and add their own serious health conditions as a reason for taking leave.  D.C. residents who work for the federal government or an employer outside of D.C. will pay into the fund individually, as will self-employed D.C. residents.

How much does the employee get?  Up to 16 weeks for a qualifying event.  Wage replacement is Benefits would equal 100% of average weekly wages up to $1,000 a week and then 50% of average earnings above that amount, up to a maximum benefit of $3,000 a week.

Who pays: Covered employer means any individual, partnership, general contractor, subcontractor, association, corporation, business trust, or any person or group of persons acting directly or indirectly in the interest of an employer in relation to an employee, but shall not include the United States or the District of Columbia.

How much does the employer pay? A scaled percentage of their employee’s wage for that pay roll period (less than 1% of the annualized salary before taxes).

What is a qualifying event?     

  • Qualifying event means one of the following:
    1. The birth of a child of the employee;
    2. The legal placement of a child with the employee (such as through adoption, guardianship, or foster care);
    3. The placement with the employee of a child for whom the employee permanently assumes and discharges parental responsibilities; or
    4. Care for a family member or personal serious health condition
  • Family member means
    1. A person to whom the employee is related by blood, legal custody, domestic partnership, or marriage;
    2. A foster child;
    3.  A child who lives with the employee and for whom the employee permanently assumes and discharges parental responsibility; or
    4. A person with whom the employee shares or has shared, within the last year, a mutual residence and with whom the employee maintains a committed relationship. 
  • Personal Care for a "Serious health condition" – this definition is expansive and inclusive so that our LGBTQ population can access leave for procedures that require hospitalization or managed care. The Bill contains inclusive definition of serious health conditions, caregiving, needs for military families, and other reasons for long-term paid leave.

Is the person’s job protected?  D.C. Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) currently protects many employees from termination or other forms of retaliation for taking a leave (which would typically be unpaid, but could include vacation or sick days as a part). Currently, the D.C. FMLA applies to, Businesses with 20 or more employees in the District; and Employees who have worked for the same employer more than a year and worked 1,000 or more hours in the year leading up to their leave request.  The legislation would make only modest changes to job protections under the DC FMLA. It would decrease the hours and month requirement for eligibility for job protection, leave the small business exemption in place, and amends the definitions of “family” and “serious health condition” to match those in other laws.



Infographic: How Access to Paid Leave Helps Fathers

Infographic: To Promote Women’s Leadership, We Need Public Policy 

The Business Case for Paid Leave and Paid Sick Days 

Business School Faculty Letter to Congress

The Economic Benefits of Family and Medical Leave Insurance 

The Science Behind Why Paid Parental Leave is Good for Everyone 

Small Business Majority Research on Paid Family Leave 

The Cost of Doing Nothing, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Perez




Frequently Asked Questions: Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015

1. Why does D.C. need the Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015?

The Universal Paid Leave Act would allow workers to care for themselves and their loved ones when major life events arise. Paid family medical leave helps families and  workers to be healthier and happier. For businesses, the legislation allows them to retain talented and dedicated employees, while avoiding the high costs and lengthy processes associated with staff turnover and on-boarding. A robust paid family and medical leave program will give D.C. employers a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining highly qualified workers.

2. What would this legislation mean for employees?

The bill would cover up to 16 weeks of paid leave annually for a qualifying event (family bonding or personal/family medical issues).  100% of an employee’s wages will be replaced for the first $1,000 of her or his average weekly salary and then 50% thereafter up to $3,000 a week.

Example:  Your annual salary is $50,000.  You are a new father and want to take time off to be with your adopted child.  You elect to take off 8 weeks and qualify to take leave after applying and having your eligibility verified. Your average weekly salary is $961, so you will receive that full amount for the entire 8 weeks.

3.  Who is covered by the proposed legislation?

All District of Columbia employees are eligible for paid family medical leave if they are residents of the city or spend more than 50% of their time working for an employer in the city. Employees are eligible to receive payments from the family medical leave fund at the start of employment. However, employees are only eligible for job protection after six months or 500 hours of work in a 12-month period. 

4. What are the responsibilities of an employer?

An employer pays a percentage (estimated 1% or less) from payroll for each employee into the government managed family medical leave fund. The fund administrators will be required to verify and process claims and will then pay the employees directly. The fund administrators would also handle any related investigations or appeals.

5. How will the proposed legislation be funded?

The Universal Paid Leave Act creates a city-managed fund financed by an employer-based cost-sharing model. Similar to Unemployment Insurance, all D.C. employers (except the federal and local government) will pay up to 1% of payroll into the fund. This fund would be administered by the D.C. government—keeping the burden off of employers—and the fund size will have  a maximum limit.

6. What is the difference between paid sick days and paid family medical leave?

Paid family medical leave is different than paid sick days. It would be used only for birth or adoption of a child, or for a major medical event. The estimated average cost per employee paid by the employer will be $385 annually and that amount will cover the employee for up to 16 weeks of paid leave—far less than paying directly out of pocket which will give businesses the opportunity to offer competitive benefits packages.

7. Is the employer required to hold the employee’s job during leave?

Yes, the D.C. Family Medical Leave Act standards provide 16 weeks of job protection that is unpaid. The Universal Paid Leave Act of 2015 proposes to extend job protection to employees who have worked for 6 months or 500 hours in a 12 month period. 

8. What if all the staff at a small business take leave at the same time?

We do not underestimate the effects that long-term leave has on businesses, but this is unlikely to be a problem—nationally only 13% of workers take family medical leave annually. The bill aims to enable workers to take the time they need to care for themselves or family members when the situation arises and then return to work at full capacity. The ability to retain talented and dedicated employees, and avoid the high costs and lengthy processes associated with staff turnover, makes paid family medical leave good business, no matter a business’ size.

8. What if I reverse commute or my employer is not mandated to pay into this fund?

If your employer is not required to pay into the fund, then you, as a resident, will pay into the system on your own behalf thereby enabling you to receive benefits when you become a parent or personal or family medical situations arise.  If you are a self-employed individual then you are automatically enrolled in the system to pay into the fund and receive the benefit.

9. What other jurisdictions have paid leave?

New Jersey (2008), California (2002), and Rhode Island (2013) have income tax-based family leave and temporary disability insurance policies that cannot be implemented in D.C. because of federal Home Rule restrictions on taxing income. We have, however, learned from the strengths and challenges with these programs and have incorporated their best practices into the D.C. legislation.  Globally, the United States lags behind other countries that all offer some form of paid leave for their citizens.  



Paid Family Leave: Eight Weeks for District Government Employees

By Anne Robinson

In March, we published a blog post on the Fair Leave Act of 2014, introduced by Councilmember Grosso.  The legislation provided D.C. government employees up to six weeks of paid leave in connection with the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child, or the care of a family member who has a serious medical condition.   During this time, conversation was sparked across the country about the need for men to be more supported as fathers and policies that encourage women to stay in the workplace.  This was an area where D.C. could lead.

When the Mayor released his proposed FY2015 budget to the Council in April, we were pleased to read that he included language for a six week maternity or paternity leave for D.C. government employees.  This was a follow through on the promise he made during the State of the District speech in February and similar to the language in the Fair Leave Act, but the issue of a fiscal impact was still unclear.  

Throughout the budget process, we worked diligently with Chairman Kenyan McDuffie of the Committee on Government Operations and were successful in amending the Mayor’s Budget Support Act language to: expand the language to be for the care of any family member; increase the amount of time from six weeks to eight weeks; and to cite all references and definitions to the D.C. Family Medical Leave Act (DC FMLA) for consistency (see the bottom of this post for the language).  

The eight weeks of paid family leave policy for a qualifying District government employee will go into effect on October 1, 2014.  The Department of Human Resources (DCHR) is currently working on issuing a bulletin to each agency’s Human Resources advisors to inform them of the law and the leave certification process.  They are hopeful that it will be issued by mid-September, at which point employees can submit an application for the benefit for leave occurring on or after October 1. DCHR is also working on a draft rulemaking that will be open for a 30 day comment period in late fall.   The eight weeks of paid leave will count against the allotted 16 weeks in a 24 month period of unpaid leave that is currently given under the D.C. FMLA.  The bill has no fiscal impact because employees’ salaries are already allocated for on an annual basis, therefore this leave time will not require any extra funding. 

The paid family leave beginning on October 1 is a major step for the District of Columbia and we will eagerly track the implementation process and the success of this initiative.  Our work is not done until we can expand this benefit to all of our families in the District working outside of government employment.

As we began our research and collaboration with advocacy groups, it became clear that identifying a funding structure to provide paid family leave without creating a new source of revenue would be very difficult.  California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island each have paid family leave programs that were more easily implemented because of already existing state level payroll and income tax systems.  Other jurisdictions offer paid family leave through State Disability Insurance (SDI) funds and temporary disability laws. Unfortunately, the District of Columbia does not have structures like these in place to expand coverage to all residents.

Over the summer, advocates worked with the Department of Employment Services (DOES), in partnership with Mayor Gray, to apply to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) for a grant to study the feasibility of a paid family leave program in the District.  At the White House Summit on Working Families in June, President Obama announced that DOL’s Women’s Bureau and Employment and Training Administration will make $500,000 available for up to five grants.  If awarded this funding, D.C. would be able to assess various aspects of a paid family leave program by estimating the expected costs, benefits, and economic impact; evaluating different models for delivery; and provide an analysis of education and outreach needs. The results of the grant competition are expected early this fall.

There is a major shift happening in national policy and paid family leave is a topic that many organizations are focusing on to support women and families in the workplace. Our office will continue to explore the option for expansion of paid family leave, researching alternatives, having conversations with the business community about the effects of paid family leave on the private sector, and supporting other federal policies that might help us progress toward inclusive paid family leave.  This is an area where D.C. can lead, and we plan to!

If a D.C. government employee or HR advisor is seeking information about the law, please direct them to DCHR at (202) 442-9700. The agency has FMLA coordinators who will advise them.

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.



The Fair Leave Act of 2014

by Anne Robinson

This week, Councilmember Grosso along with Councilmembers Catania, McDuffie, and Wells  introduced the Fair Leave Act of 2014. The bill was referred to the Committee on Government Operations.  The intent is to provide government employees up to 6 weeks of paid leave in connection with the birth, adoption, or fostering of a child, or the care of a family member who has a serious medical condition.  By offering 6 weeks of paid leave for a government employee, we actively invest in families by supporting early childhood development, the health and welfare of residents, the retention of women in the workforce, and the vital role that parents play.  I think that 6 weeks of paid leave is a very small price to pay for outcomes that have such a diverse impact. 

Currently, the District of Columbia Family Medical Leave Act (D.C. FMLA) allows for all persons working for businesses with 50 employees or more to receive up to 16 weeks out of a continuous 24 month period of unpaid leave to care for a family member in the event of a birth, adoption, fostering, or illness.  A family member is a person related to the employee by blood, legal custody, or marriage; a child who lives with the employee; or a person with whom the employee has shared a home with in the same year. The D.C. FMLA unpaid leave allows for 4 weeks longer than the federal FMLA.  The definition of “family member” is inclusive and reflective of whom we label and identify as family here in the District.  The law includes safeguards for the employee’s position and benefits during a period of unpaid leave and also protects the interests of the employer. 

We believe that amending the D.C. Code to allow for 6 weeks of paid leave will have positive impacts on education, health and welfare, and human rights in our city. 


Councilmember Grosso serves on the Committee on Education and he hears the testimony from parents and teachers alike about their concerns for the educational development of children.  He is also involved in analyzing the District’s need for universal pre-kindergarten programs that start as early as three years of age to ensure that we are reaching the children who are not getting basic skills at home that help them to be school-ready.  Studies have shown that beginning at birth, care-takers in the home foster the necessary development of communication, empathy, curiosity, creativity, and confidence.  These are just some of the fundamental traits that children need to develop prior to beginning pre-school and kindergarten programs.  When parents can nurture language and literacy starting from birth a child is better prepared both physically and emotionally when they enter school. When we provide parents with the tools they need to teach their children we set into motion foundations for a child’s future success.


Councilmember Grosso also serves as a member on the Committees on Health.  From meetings with nurses, health care providers, and patient advocates we are constantly discussing ways that we can broaden and ease the recovery process for those who are ill and in need of care.  One way to do this is to offer paid leave for a new mother to stay at home with her infant child so that she can recover from the delivery without the fear of the financial burdens that an individual or family faces when they must take leave from work.   The average time to heal from the birth of child is 6 weeks, but that is under the best of circumstances.  Recovery from a surgical cesarean delivery, complications from the delivery, or post-partum depression can increase the need for leave time.  It is vital that our city provides high quality health care and assistance to low-income residents of the District who need it.   If a parent has to choose between working and staying home with a new child it can delay regular well-baby checks-ups or immunization schedules, which is a serious public health concern.  

Gender Roles and Balance

As gender roles in our society shift, the roles of men and women in the household are also changing.  Positions and opportunities for women in the workplace are evolving while at the same time women must strive to be perceived as equal to their male counterparts.  Women do not want to face employment setbacks for being pregnant or taking time off.  This legislation gives either parent the benefit of taking time off to care for a family member without the fear of lost positions or wages.  The legislation also promotes the necessary role that fathers and secondary caretakers play in their child’s development.  When the government supports fathers to stay home with a newborn, studies have shown that this solidifies their involvement in the long-term care of the child.  This bill acknowledges that not only is the man’s employment position or salary relevant, but also his involvement and concerns as a parent. We recognize that there is a great diversity of families and this bill is designed to be inclusive of all family structures.


The United States ranks second from the bottom, runner up to Pakistan, for paid maternity and paternity leave.  Norway and Canada top the paid leave charts with four months of paid government leave for both parents.  Even though our economic structure and system of government do not function the same way as these countries, it might be time to consider the economic benefits that can be gained from providing paid leave.  California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island all offer 6 weeks of paid leave for all employees, which is funded through a payroll tax.  The state of Washington passed paid leave legislation and is currently working on their budget for the program.  In July 2013, the U.S. Senate Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations Subcommittee approved a fiscal year 2014 spending measure that includes $5 million to support a new State Paid Leave Fund.  The fund will provide planning and implementation grants to states wishing to establish paid leave programs and provide benefits to workers who need to take time off for reasons covered under FMLA. 

Mayor Gray indicated in his State of District speech that he would also be introducing similar legislation that would allowed for 4 weeks paid leave for the primary caregiver and 2 weeks for the secondary caregiver.  These are all signs of progress and we hope the District of Columbia will be next on the list to offer a similar benefit. 

To offer District government employees 6 weeks of paid leave is economically sound.  By having this policy in place, we will attract more qualified employees to work here and we will encourage the mothers to return to the workplace.  By granting flexibly and time to recover and bond, parents will feel less pressure about their financial situation.  And by having parents who are able to stay at home with the concern of financial burdens lifted they will be able to focus on the child.  This concept loops us back to better public health, stronger families, and promoting the basic education and skills a child needs starting from birth to be healthy and school ready. 

*All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.



Oversight letter to the Department of Employment Services

In addition to posting our summaries of agency performance oversight hearings over the past weeks, we also want to share with you the follow-up oversight that happens in this process. After a hearing, Councilmembers often send letters to agencies with further questions. Here is Councilmember Grosso's letter to the D.C. Department of Employment Services, and the Office's response:



Performance Oversight Hearings Week in Review February 24-28, 2014

The week of February 24-28, 2014 was an epic one for agency performance oversight hearings at the D.C. Council. Councilmember Grosso set out to attend every oversight hearing for the committees where he is a member—there were 12 hearings, addressing 29 government agencies. We covered all those hearings plus monitored a couple others! Like last week, what follows is a presentation of key moments from some of those hearings.

Quote of the week:

"There are two critical attributes for gaining employment with the Washington Aqueduct—have a fundamental understanding of the pH scale and understand why water is wet.” --Washington Aqueduct General Manager Thomas Jacobus. If that’s you, check out their job openings!


Committee on Education

Councilmember Grosso and staff were kept busiest by the Committee on Education, with three days of hearings centered on the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and D.C. Public Schools (DCPS). Two Washington Post articles helped set the agenda on the management of D.C. TAG (Tuition Assistance Grants, for D.C. students who go to state universities outside the District) and DCPS budget reprogramming of capital funds, published immediately prior to the respective hearings. You have to appreciate when the fourth estate also takes on an oversight role, right? Read on for some additional highlights from the hearings.

Office of the State Superintendent of Education

  • High school students who volunteer with the Young Woman’s Project were back this year to testify on the need for D.C. to update its health and sexual education curriculum. “Sexuality is taught where straightness is the norm and anything else is an aberration,” one student testified. The Committee will include language in the FY15 Budget Support Act to ask OSSE to report on the status of health curriculum revisions by October 1.
  • There was a spirited discussion about a little known change regarding student eligibility for free and reduced meals (FARM) that may have an impact on student achievement data. Last year, many D.C. schools moved to “community eligibility” for FARM meaning that if at least 40% of students at a school met the income eligibility requirements for FARM, then the entire school does. The tension arises when FARM data points are also used for student achievement. At schools like Hardy MS where just over 40% of students are FARM eligible, the other 60% of students are now being counted as such. Committee Chairman Catania suggested that this “community eligibility” distinction could distort our student achievement growth data.
  • Speaking of student achievement growth, OSSE agreed to post online all of the school improvement plans that have been approved under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act waivers. It takes a community to turn around a school, so why not let everyone know what we’re working towards. Be on the lookout for those on the OSSE website soon.
  • There needs to be a complete overhaul of the teacher licensure system. Can you believe everything is still paper-based?! Only four people work in the OSSE licensure division and it takes about 8-10 weeks to get approved, which is entirely too long in our opinion.

D.C. Public Schools

  • If you’re a parent looking at schools, you might want to compare DCPS and public charter schools side by side. Once upon a time, DCPS tried to create a common school rating system with the public charter school sector. Unfortunately, the two could not come to an agreement. So there are two systems, and no plans to try again for a unified metric. Which is a shame.
  • We are just months away from the expiration of our federal Race to the Top (RTTT) grant and DCPS still hasn’t implemented any turnaround plans under RTTT because they have not been able to receive approval from OSSE to spend the funds in time. Yes, let this knowledge marinate for a second. Millions of dollars are going unspent. But since OSSE committed to post the plans online soon, which implies they must be approved, this ball should finally be rolling.
  • Just before the hearing, the Chancellor and the Mayor released the reprogramming of funding for modernization at schools which had some major “winners” and “losers.” The Chancellor sought to clarify some decisions. She first reported that Payne ES modernization dollars had been restored. Garrison ES was removed from Phase I modernization because the Mayor decided to do a full modernization for Garrison in FY15. The Chancellor also noted that there could be more changes to capital improvement plans to address some critical Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) violations at schools like Banneker HS, as pointed out by Councilmember Grosso. Going forward, all Phase I school modernizations will address ADA compliance issues.
  • Councilmember Grosso asked Chancellor Henderson about the continuity of leaders and whether the one-year contracts for school administrators is helping or hindering DCPS keep its effective leaders. The Chancellor reported that she is conversations with the CSO (school leader union) about 3-year contracts for school leaders. A BIG move if they can get it to work.
  • Not everyone likes the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new healthy nutrition standards for school lunch. Participation rates across DCPS are down because the food isn’t as flavorful. Councilmember Grosso noted that they should consider food trucks—turns out that’s what some of the students have been asking for.

We are certainly looking forward to the Mayor’s FY15 budget to see how DCPS better equalizes the rigor and programming across its middle schools and education campuses. The big money question: is it OK for some more advanced courses like Algebra I to have 3 or 4 students in a classroom, or should those courses be cut?


Committee of the Whole

Oversight hearings by the Committee of the Whole covered eight different agencies! However, the Office of Contracts and Procurement had just recently had a hearing, and several other agencies are multi-jurisdictional, so the bulk of energy was put into oversight of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) and the UDC Community College.  The oversight hearing—covering UDC, the community college, and the law school—was a marathon, clocking in at over six hours.

  • One hurdle that Councilmember Grosso discussed with UDC President Lyons was how the institution can overcome the barriers that it faces for Middle States Accreditation. To that end, UDC recognizes that it must take action to implement its Vision 20/20 Plan, so that it can operate less as a government agency and more like an independent higher education institution. 
  • There was the robust discussion about dual eligibility and how the college plans to engage with DCPS and public charter schools to get our resident students into early college prep courses to earn both high school and college credits. 
  • Another hot topic was retention and graduation rates--UDC currently retains and graduates only about 16% of the students that enroll at the school.  We do not know the percentages of students who transfer out to other institutions or leave higher education altogether.  The University is beginning to track these students better as well as develop plans for retaining more students. 

Although there is a lot of work to be done, the focus and the energy are clearly shifting at UDC from a survival mode mentality to one that is more about thriving and future growth. 


Committee on Health

D.C. Office on Aging

  • As part of their FY13 performance goals, D.C. Office on Aging planned to reach 55% of District employees seeking employment through job training and placement but only reached 26.5%. this was due in part to that the tight current job market, where seniors are competing with recent college graduates and grad school alum for the same positions.  Another Office initiative was a collaboration with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to educate seniors about financial abuse and fraud. In response to a question from Councilmember Grosso, the Office on Aging said they are actively addressing issues affecting LGBT seniors and have members of their senior advisory board from the LGBT community.

Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services

  • Councilmember Grosso asked the Deputy Mayor of Health and Human Services about the little-known fact that the Gray administration changed emergency shelters from being open year-round to only during hypothermia season. This might be part of why D.C. General had such a crunch this winter, among other factors. David also made it clear that he believes D.C. should be helping anyone who is homeless in the city, rather than focusing efforts on additional measures to verify District residency for those seeking shelter.


Committee for Transportation and the Environment

Another wide-ranging set of agencies were up before the Transportation and the Environment Committee for oversight hearings.

Department of Environment

  • Public witnesses testifying about Department of Environment (DDOE) echoed Councilmember Grosso’s desire to swim in the Anacostia, alleging that the swimming ban should be removed in certain parts of the river where kayaking and other water activities already take place. Director Anderson was not convinced, but said they would look into the subject, while erring on the side of safety. Additionally:
  • DDOE has finalized storm water regulations—related in part to the green river infrastructure discussed by DC Water (see below), who they are collaborating with on continued clean-up of the Anacostia.
  • DDOE planted over 8,000 trees in the District in FY13, exceeding original targets by almost 100%.
  • Under a contract with DDOE, DC Sustainable Energy Utility (DCSEU) is tasked with promoting energy efficiency, but has been failing to meet its benchmarks. DDOE is reviewing the contract and considering changes to be made.

Director Anderson stated that priorities for the coming year include implementing the Mayor’s Sustainable D.C. plan, the health of the Anacostia River, and working to resolve issues with the DCSEU.

DC Water & Washington Aqueduct

  • With two-thirds of District sewer overflows dumping into the Anacostia and Potomac, DC Water is working to accelerate its green infrastructure initiative. DC Water and Department of Transportation are exploring which is agency is best suited to implement this initiative, known as the Clean Rivers Project. Remaining challenges notwithstanding, public witness Marchant Wentworth remembered when “condoms were gently flowing out of combined sewer tunnels.”  We’ve come a long way.
  • According to General Manager Thomas Jacobus of the oft-forgotten Washington Aqueduct, the District’s water quality is just as good if not better than any other local jurisdiction.  All water analysis testing will be completed by the end of the month.

Department of Motor Vehicles

  • Big news for the Department of Motor Vehicles when April turns to May--the Georgetown Service Center is scheduled to reopen on April 29, while new driver’s licenses under the D.C. Driver’s Safety Amendment Act will launch May 1, 2014. Don’t plan to get your new license on May Day, however, as due to the large number of residents expected to apply, they will be available by appointment only.
  • In other facilities news, DMV Director Lucinda Babers said that Brentwood Road Test Center “sucks,” and she is working with Department of General Services to identify another location for road testing.
  • Tips for the “wrongly” ticketed: If ever you should receive a parking ticket that you wish to contest, DMV wants you to know that you should NOT pay the ticket first.  Paying the ticket is basically an admission of guilt.  To resolve the matter, contest the ticket.  If you lose and seek to appeal, you must then pay the ticket along with the appeal fee.  If you win on appeal, you will be refunded.

Department of Public Works

  • Bet you didn’t see this coming--due to the heavy snowfall this winter, Department of Public Works has busted their snow budget, going $2 million over their $6.2 million budget. DPW is working with the Budget Office to reallocate additional funds. But even $8 million isn’t enough to get every D.C. street clear of snow after heavy storms, which DPW is trying to address by improving communications among plow drivers and zone captains. Will Spring ever come?
  • When residents aren’t complaining about snow, they’re griping about parking, and DPW indicated that parking enforcers are beginning to take more photos to reduce “keying errors.” Yes, photos! DPW stated that if a parking officer has a high ticket challenge rate they are likely writing bad tickets and the Director will address it.


Committee on Business and Consumer Regulatory Affairs

Over 90 people showed up to testify before the Committee on Business and Consumer Regulatory Affairs oversight hearing regarding  four major agencies—Department of Employment Services, Department of Small and Local Business Development, Workforce Investment Council and the Office of Motion Picture and Television Development. Here are some key moments:

  • The majority of attendees spoke about the need for the Chairman and the Council to secure the necessary funding in the budget to fulfill the promise of the new minimum wage and paid sick and safe leave laws. 
  • Councilmember Grosso used his allotted time to question the Department of Employment Services (DOES) Interim Director, Tom Luparello.  His primary focus was to ascertain the metrics used by the Department to measure the performance of their employees and the programs and services that they provide.  Historically, the Office of Program and Performance Monitoring has been understaffed with an underspent budget—we think that is a serious problem for the office that oversees the implementation of policies, procedures, and metrics. Director Luparello stated that they are working on getting this office properly staffed.  He also mentioned that he reviews reports of employees and programs on a daily basis.  It is his goal to review every program and office at DOES to determine and rate performance levels.
  • One positive crossover from the Committee of the Whole oversight hearing for the UDC Community College and DOES is that apparently both groups are working together to find better avenues for improving workforce development needs and funding. 


Committee on Finance and Revenue

The Finance and Revenue Committee heard from the Office of the Chief Financial Officer (OCFO) about its latest efforts to prevent and identify fraud. OCFO established the Office of Integrity Oversight to monitor internal controls along with a new Chief Risk Officer.Additionally, OCFO has tightened hiring standards for the Office and is committed to changing company culture to foster a positive work environment because changing attitudes is the first step to decreasing fraud and company waste.


Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety

Although Councilmember Grosso is not a member of the Committee on the Judiciary and Public Safety, we try to keep up with the happenings there due to our commitment to improving the criminal justice system in the District. The oversight hearing on coordination of emergency responses by the Office of Unified Communications (OUC), the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department (FEMS), and the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) brought out a number of interesting points regarding recent high profile agency failures.

Fire and Emergency Medical Services

  • FEMS protocol is that every patient must be assessed. In a tragic case where a man died after an ambulance responding to the call said they were “waved off by MPD,” this policy clearly states that they should have responded regardless of MPD actions. Nonetheless, as noted by one union leader, a protocol shouldn’t replace the basic instinct of compassion that is vital to working in the public safety field.
  • The conversation kept returning to issues of dispatch, and how dispatch decisions are made. There was not clarity on whether FEMS has a policy prohibiting self-dispatching (such as an ambulance stopping to help someone who hails them when not already on a call), although under the previous fire chief one employee was allegedly fired for self-dispatching. A former oversight officer for FEMS testified, seeking whistleblower protection, about a number of failures at the agency, including a faulty dispatch priority decision making system. He described witnessing a police officer hit by a car across the street from his station, but then being dispatched to reset a fire alarm in a nearby building while a team from another neighborhood was sent to help the officer. He also outlined other problems from credentialing to medication supplies to lack of oversight within the agency.

Metropolitan Police Department

We looked forward to the oversight hearing for the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) after the recent release of the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force report as well as the conversations in the city about racial disparities in arrests and marijuana law reform. A few advocates made important testimony and Chief Lanier answered several rounds of questions from Committee Chairman Wells.

  • An ACLU investigation of police complaint processes found that only four in ten police stations kept complaint forms for the Office of Police Complaints, while their inquiries about how to file a complaint against an officer frequently elicited hostile and factually inaccurate responses from officers. This testimony contrasted starkly with Chief Lanier’s later testimony that the best way to improve police interactions with transgender residents is for people to make complaints. Indeed, she testified that the best way to address officer misconduct across the board is by filing reports.
  • Conflicts between bicyclists and car drivers, and associated safety concerns, continue to be an issue for advocates like Washington Area Bicycle Association. While WABA and others suggested that increased enforcement of bicycle laws might help but also emphasized that bicyclists are not the only ones that flout the laws, and encouraged any increase in enforcement to be applied fairly across transportation modes. Chief Lanier rejected suggestions that MPD officers might treat bicyclists less favorably than motorists.
  • On the topic of the Hate Crimes Assessment Task Force report, Chief Lanier recognized that the transition of the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit (GLLU) was not done well. While she agreed that it was rushed and therefore not properly executed, she stood by her decision to decentralize the unit. Chief Lanier also acknowledged that MPD needs stronger training for affiliate members of the GLLU. Although the report documented a steady increase in hate crimes, including against LGBT community, from 2008 to 2011, Chief Lanier testified that hate crimes have gone down in the previous two year. There is still no consensus on whether this reflects actual crime patterns, reporting patterns, or an unclear mix of the two.
  • In response to questions from Committee Chairman Wells about racial disparities in marijuana arrests, Chief Lanier said that racial disparities are nothing new in drug arrests. She further stated that the report from the Washington Committee of Lawyers for Civil Rights on race and marijuana arrests used bad data—data that came from MPD. According to Chief Lanier, 911 calls are what lead to drug arrests. In 2013, MPD received 12 calls regarding marijuana use in Ward 3 versus 500+ in Ward 7, partially explaining racial disparities according to the Chief.




The D.C. Workforce Investment Council's Role in Employment Services

By Anne Robinson

Last fall, Councilmember Grosso was appointed by the Chairman of the Council to serve on the D.C. Workforce Investment Council (WIC). As the staff member assigned to this issue, I began to research and understand the history of the D.C. WIC and I found it to be fascinating.  It has a tangled history, both on the national level and here at home.   The important theme throughout is how integral a role it plays in steering our residents down the employment path.  I hope you will join me on my journey down the path to better understanding how employment services operate in the District. 

The functions of the D.C. WIC are largely defined by requirements in the federal Workforce Investment Act (WIA). The mission of WIC is to oversee the creation and improvement of services and programs that address the workforce development needs of the region's employers and the District's residents.  Members are authorized to advise the Mayor and District government on all functions designated to the WIC.   The Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development (DMPED) has administrative oversight of the WIC on behalf of the Mayor.  So, where did WIA come from? 

In the 1930s, unemployment insurance programs were created to combat the impacts the Great Depression had on employment.  Throughout the proceeding decades, the federal government developed new plans and policies that expanded unemployment insurance benefits to also address displaced workers and job training.  As time went on, responsibility for the unemployment insurance programs slowly shifted from federal control to being administered more on the state and local level.  In 1998, the Workforce Investment Act was implemented with the goal of further authorizing states to provide employment and training services through federally-funded workforce development programs and One-Stop Job Centers (now referred to as American Jobs Centers).   The Job Centers provide career counseling and planning, resume and interview assistance, direct job placement, classroom and on-the-job training, access to a jobs bank, information about labor markets, and unemployment compensation.

WIA mandated that all states create Workforce Investment Boards (WIB) to implement policies at the state and local levels for the workforce programs.  The D.C. Workforce Investment Council (WIC) was created in accordance to WIA that same year. 

By statute, the Board must be comprised of members of the business community, directors from agencies receiving federal workforce dollars, and two members of the D.C. Council.  The legislative intent of WIA is for the WIB/WICs to approve the spending and business plans for One-Stop operators and report compliance metrics to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).   Unfortunately, the intent was not fully realized under both the Williams and Fenty Administrations.  Since their inception, the D.C. One-Stops have been solely operated and managed by the Department of Employment Services (DOES).   DOES was supposed to report to the WIC who is the responsible body reporting to DOL under federal law.  This did not happen. DOES has not been in full compliance with DOL standards for operating the One-Stops since 1998 and the authority granted to the WIC was largely ignored.   

In 2012, Mayor Gray began to implement the WIA required DC Workforce Development Strategic Plan 2012-2016.  To date, the strategic plan has been a necessary cornerstone to move workforce development in the right direction.  The plan includes reinvigorating the WIC, getting DOES in compliance with DOL, and getting more residents back to work.  Over the past 2 years, the WIC Board has worked diligently to bring DOES management of the D.C. American Jobs Center to a higher compliance standard. This is being done through a newly adopted business plan and strong oversight of DOES by the WIC.  

As we continue to learn and track the employment system we intend to continue sharing with you what we discover.    DOES will have their annual oversight hearing before the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs on Wednesday, February 26 at 10:00 am in Room 500 of the John A. Wilson Building.  We urge you to engage by watching, testifying, or sending us your questions so we can ask them for you. 

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.



A Good Day for D.C.

I just came from a mark-up of education bills that increased our investment per student in areas of the city that need it the most. Now I am gladly supporting an increase in the minimum wage and sick leave for restaurant workers. These two items are not unrelated – and in fact, I am very pleased to support our students and increase wages for entry level positions. This is a two-front battle against generational poverty.

Increasing the minimum wage is a victory for workers. It is long overdue and I am very happy to see that we won’t have to have a jump like this again now that we have indexed the wage including cost-of-living increases. Businesses in the region can now have the certainty they are seeking and workers in the area have come close to realizing the entry level living wage that they deserve.

I introduced an amendment to the bill that will hopefully make the minimum wage reporting provision less burdensome on restaurants by requiring all minimum wage certifications to be available online. I will follow up with the appropriate agency to ensure this is a simple one-click certification if no wages had to be supplemented and a two-click process when wages do have to be supplemented. All enforcement and certification should fall on the agency, not on the business. Businesses just need to keep good records in case of an audit, as they should anyway. The desired outcome of this provision, and this amendment to it, is an increase of prosecution of bad actors and less burden on responsible business owners.

Voting today to support a focused effort to improve education where it is most needed and higher wages for those who most need it is why I ran for office. This is a good day for D.C. 



Only $26,000 per year!

Last week, my colleagues and I took up the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which requires all District retailers whose parent companies make at least $1 billion in sales to pay their employees a minimum of $12.50 per hour — $4.25 above the current District minimum wage. After much deliberation, I supported this legislation and it passed the Council and is now waiting for the Mayor’s signature.

 The District of Columbia has seen immense growth and development over the last 10 years. Much of the growth has been possible because of government subsidies, incentives and partnerships with developers and retailers. As a result, the city’s strong economy and growing population has become attractive to national businesses. We certainly have more work to do; however, the District of Columbia is in a strong bargaining position to attract quality jobs and quality opportunities for District residents.

We must balance the interest of attracting large retailers to our less developed Wards 5, 7 and 8, while also attracting quality jobs to support our residents and their families. The federal minimum wage has remained stagnant, while the numbers of low-wage jobs and temporary positions have increased. Under this legislation, a full-time employee of a larger retailer making the minimum would take home only around $26,000 annually. That is it; barely over the federal poverty line for a family of four.  We can do better than this for our residents.

Wal-Mart made this the Wal-Mart bill with a concerted, expensive lobbying effort. Other large stores in the District like Costco, Home Depot, Target, and Macy’s would also have to abide by the law, but considering that Wal-Mart currently pays its workers 28 percent less on average than other larger retailers, I get why they have made this about them. Other communities around the country have fought Wal-Mart on wages, on benefits, on preserving local business. Almost every community has lost the fight — that is one method Wal-Mart has used to become the number one grossing company on the Fortune 500 list again in 2013.

Wal-Mart employs more people than any other company in the United States outside of the federal government, yet the majority of its employees with children live below the poverty line. According to the company, Wal-Mart pays its full-time, associates an average of $12.67 per hour. But with an increased reliance on temporary hires, about a third of its employees work less than 28 hours per week. Entry associates typically start near minimum wage, and have the potential to earn raises of 20 to 40 cents an hour through incremental promotions. A perfect review on your annual performance evaluation will get you an increase of 60 cents. As a result, an entry-level associate (earning $8.25 per hour) who “exceeds expectations,” and gets one promotion, is likely to earn only $10.90 per hour after five years of service.

Sadly, that is what our residents have to look forward to if the LRAA is not signed into law. I believe that the long-term effect of six Wal-Marts in D.C. would perpetuate a system of poverty that traps our poorest residents in low-paying jobs, with little hope for advancement.

I, along with the seven other Councilmembers who voted in favor of the LRAA, am asking that we treat our residents better. According to a 2012 report by the non-partisan think tank, Demos, raising wage standards to the equivalent of $25,000 per year for full-time retail workers would lift 734,075 people out of poverty, increase the GDP by billions, and create 100,000 to 132,000 additional jobs. Having saturated many suburban and rural areas, Wal-Mart has long had its eyes on our great city as part of its larger effort to expand into highly populated urban areas. Rather than continue its habit of paying low wages, Wal-Mart could use its position of influence as one of the nation’s largest retailers to drive up wages and spur job creation in the District.

If Wal-Mart chooses not to go forward with its three remaining stores, I would not be upset. In fact, we should really be asking ourselves if our city can even support six stores, all of which are about 15 minutes or less from each other.

This presents an opportunity for the city to become more creative in its efforts to spur more development in our Wards east of the river. For example, why not recruit Trader Joe’s, a company that pays its entry-level crew members, $10 to $12, for Skyland?  Not only would it provide residents in that neighborhood with a high-quality grocery option, but also lure residents who faithfully travel into Arlington and Alexandria to make the journey to a popular brand. I am willing to invest D.C. tax dollars to support such an effort – if we can show the area can support the investment. If Ward 7 needs other investments to entice businesses, we have a host of solutions we can try from improving safety to fixing blight. That is our role as a government in an economically powerful city.

I will continue to work along with my colleagues at the Council, to better ensure that D.C. residents have greater opportunities to earn a living wage.  Retailers and companies like Costco Wholesale and the grocery store chain Trader Joe’s, are proving that the decision to offer low wages is a choice, not an economic necessity.