Seattle city employees will now be able to use paid family-care leave when a child or birthing partner dies.
The City Council on Monday passed Bea’s Law, the name given to the changes to the paid family-care ordinance in honor of the infant daughter of a city worker.
The council was spurred to action when an employee and her wife had to borrow paid time off from co-workers to take time away from work after their daughter died in November 2017, only 36 hours after being born.
Rachel Alder said she and Erin Alder were “extraordinarily pleased” by the council’s unanimous vote in favor of the changes and were thankful for the support they received throughout the process.
After the death of their daughter, Beatrice “Bea” Kathryn Alder, Rachel had to go back to the hospital for preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication. Because Bea wasn’t at home with her parents after being born, Rachel could not use the paid leave offered to her through her job to heal from the pregnancy complication. Instead, she had only three days of bereavement time afforded to her before having to be back at work.
Rachel could take the recovery time she needed only because her co-workers donated two months of paid time off. After a co-worker suggested Rachel speak with a representative from her union, PROTEC17, the Alders and the union started working with Mayor Jenny Durkan and council members Teresa Mosqueda and M. Lorena González.
The changes approved Monday by the council mean the city’s paid family-care ordinance now allows for paid time off after the death of a child up to 18 years old. The council also approved paid time off if a partner dies from pregnancy-related issues.
Erin and Rachel said the nurses caring for Bea told them she was a fighter. Their daughter’s toughness inspired them to see the new rules through. Rachel said the year-and-a-half it took from the time of Bea’s death to Monday’s vote has been good for her and Erin.
“I’ve been surprised how healing this process has been,” she said. “To be advocating in (Bea’s) name has been special.”
Mosqueda, who backed the changes, said the city’s paid family-care-leave rules were unfair to people dealing with tremendous loss and grief because employees had to use vacation and sick time before they could tap into bereavement time.
“You don’t want to be in a situation where you have lost a child and are told you have to use your vacation first,” she said. “You shouldn’t have to use those.”
The Alders are likely not done advocating for others in Bea’s name. They have connected with other bereavement-time advocates locally and in Washington D.C. “We are in it to see what can be done,” Rachel said.
Mosqueda said bereavement time laws across the country need to be updated or created, especially given the high rates of pregnancy-related deaths for women of color. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a study showing that American Indian/Alaska Native and black women are about three times as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes as white women.
“I think you will see other cities and states around the country look at what we did here,” Mosqueda said.
The city could implement rules requiring Seattle businesses to create bereavement rules, but that there are no plans to do so, Mosqueda said. She added that she would like to explore the idea with local businesses.