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August 24, 2001
Mass. Firms Unmoved by Family Leave Plan
The
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major business groups in Massachusetts have declined to endorse Acting Gov. Jane M. Swift's universal family leave proposal, according to the Boston Globe.

Business leaders call it a step forward from earlier ideas but question its potential impact on firms struggling in a slowing economy, the Globe reports.

Still, some of those leaders acknowledged that with so many lawmakers on Beacon Hill supporting some sort of a family leave program, they may not see a more business-friendly proposal than Swift's plan.

It calls for tapping an existing employer-supported state fund rather than raise taxes or raid the unemployment insurance fund.

Swift, who just came off of a working maternity leave after the birth of twins in May, this week unveiled a program that would pay new parents up to $300 per week for 12 weeks, with the money coming from the little-used Medical Security Trust Fund.

The fund, originally intended to pay medical benefits to the unemployed, currently runs a $30 million annual surplus, which administration officials insist is more than enough to cover the program's $27 million projected cost.

"We are concerned about how much this program will cost," said Rick Lord, president of Associated Industries of Massachusetts. ''Nobody really knows how many people will take advantage of paid leave, and, if it costs more than the governor's plan anticipates, who is going to pay for that."

Alan MacDonald, executive director of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, however, said the political winds appear to be blowing strongly in favor of universal family leave.

"The fact is that there are more employees than there are employers - employees who vote and write letters," he said.

MacDonald and several other business leaders said employers prefer House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran's voluntary plan, which calls for bestowing tax credits on businesses that offer paid family leave.

He also said that other potential costs to business aren't being considered in the ongoing debate over family leave, such as the overtime pay and temporary worker salaries firms must pay to cover for workers who take maternity and paternity leave.

Julie Scofield, executive director of the Small Business Alliance of New England, said that burden will fall disproportionally on smaller companies. "There is just no getting around the fact that the smaller the business is, the greater the absence of each employee is felt," she said.

To view the Boston Globe story, click here.


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