Offering municipal employees two weeks of paid family leave is too costly for Skagway. That’s what the borough assembly decided at a meeting last week. While the assembly rejected the paid family leave resolution, they approved a controversial ordinance amending port commission code.
If the assembly had OK’d the paid leave resolution, Skagway might have been the only Alaska municipality to offer that kind of benefit. National groups that advocate for family-friendly workplace policies said they did not know of any Alaska cities that provide paid family leave.
“I don’t know where this came from because no one else does it,” said Assemblyman Tim Cochran.
He and others had two concerns: employees could abuse the benefit, and it could be expensive.
“I like empathy, but can you afford it?” asked Skagway resident Mavis Henriksen.
The paid leave resolution was significantly trimmed down from its first iteration. The Civic Affairs Committee cut it from 30 days of paid leave to 10 days. They added restrictions, including that an employee needed to work a year before qualifying, and could only use the benefit once every two years.
Skagway has about 50 municipal employees, and none spoke at this meeting or others about the possibility of paid family leave. Assemblyman Jay Burnham was the one who proposed it.
“I don’t see that as a big burden to the city,” Burnham said. “And as far as a reason for it, an atta boy to the people who here is all the reason I would need to say yes.”
But even the more restrained policy proposed by Civic Affairs worried the other assembly members.
“We’re not big enough to afford it,” said Steve Burnham Jr. He agreed with an idea from Assemblyman Spencer Morgan – an alternative to allow for employees to take off more time when needed.
“I don’t see a reason why if somebody gets on the lean end of their sick days, why the other employees here can’t donate it, a sick day or a few sick days to somebody who might need it in that instance,” Morgan suggested.
The ability for employees to donate sick days to their fellow workers was removed from Skagway personnel policy in 2015. Civic Affairs Chair Angela Grieser said it was something her committee could look into changing.
The assembly rejected the paid family leave resolution, five to one. Jay Burnham was the only vote in favor.
The other big decision on the agenda had to do with the borough code that governs the port commission. The borough attorney suggested changes to the code that would reinforce the commission’s role as an advisory board with limited power. The recommendations come after one port commissioner had a conversation with cruise lines representatives that some on the assembly considered out of line.
Assemblyman Cochran, who is also liaison to the commission, has been opposed the ordinance from the start.
“I think it’s going out of our way to limit the positive progress and the help that the port commission does for the assembly,” Cochran said.
Steve Burnham Jr. made changes to the ordinance using input from the port commission. The assembly voted 4-2 to accept his version, with one change. Cochran and Morgan voted against it. The ordinance basically puts a lot of unwritten rules in writing. including limitations like the fact the port commission can’t act on behalf of the municipality.