Houston City Council unanimously passed an ordinance allowing paid parental leave for city employees during an April 13 meeting in what Mayor Sylvester Turner called a historic vote.
With the ordinance, pregnant city workers are now allowed paid prenatal leave for prenatal wellness appointments or other absences due to pregnancy; paid parental leave for both genders regardless of sexual orientation for care of a child after birth; bonding with a child in placement of a city employee for adoption or foster care within the first year after child birth or placement of a child for adoption or foster care; and infant wellness leave for examinations, physicals or other checkups.
The prenatal leave is a maximum of 160 hours over a 12-month period, while parental leave is 320 hours in a 12-month period. The maximum number of hours for parental leave will be raised to 420 on Sept. 1, 2023.
Infant wellness leave allows employees to have a maximum of 40 hours over a 12-month period, according to a Quality of Life Committee presentation.
The ordinance will go into effect May 14. Full-time city employees with six months or more of continuous service will be eligible.
“I am so pleased with the unanimous vote by the members of city Council,” Turner said. “This is a great day and a historic day for the city of Houston and its 22,000 employees. The city of Houston will be able to attract and retain top talent while supporting families and children.”
As previously reported by Community Impact Newspaper, District C Council Member Abbie Kamin was the first woman to be pregnant and give birth while serving on the council. She said she worked closely with the Houston Women’s Commission to bring this to fruition.
Kamin said the ordinance takes parental leave a step further in a holistic approach to caring for families.
“I think what today means is that we can be pregnant, we can be moms, and we can do anything,” Kamin said. “We have rights and needs, and we should not be afraid to seek accommodation.”
In the past, some city employees said they saved up their paid time off and worked up until the day they gave birth to have time with their newborn.
In an interview with Community Impact Newspaper, District D Chief of Staff Nwamaka Unaka said she worked while in labor as well as on the day following the birth of her most recent child. She said she was hesitant to use her paid time off because it is hard to know what tomorrow will bring.
“It was tough,” Unaka said. “I would be lying if I said it wasn't. It's not something that I would encourage anyone else to do.”
The day she gave birth to her child, Unaka said there were complications with her daughter’s heart. While she was stressing about that, she said she was also going through emails, reviewing information for different ordinances and took part in an agenda briefing for a council meeting.
“I was doing other work all for the city when really all I should have been doing at that moment was monitoring her heartbeat, trying to set my mind right to deliver her and trying to remain calm so ... she could feed off of very positive, safe and calm energy from my body,” Unaka said.
Unaka, who is still saving her time off, was at the April 13 Council meeting with her daughter. She told Turner she wanted to be there the day this passed.
Had the paid paternal leave been enacted when she was pregnant, Unaka said she would have had the ability to focus more on her doctor appointments and overall wellness.
“I'm happy that we now have this paid leave in place so that people can focus on bringing their child into this world,” she said. “I hope that this enhances the applicants who decide to take a look at the city of Houston.”