New Jersey ready for family leave. Business lobbyists…not so much.

New Jersey is set to become the third state in the nation (after California and Washington) to provide workers with paid family leave benefits, after a huge grassroots push.

Despite the fact that New Jersey’s program (summary) has no direct cost to employers, numerous protections for business, and that the benefits of paid family leave for both families and employers are well-documented, business lobbyists are still working fiercely behind the scenes to derail the bill.

But why? How many businesses are fleeing the 163 other countries that guarantee paid leave to pregnant or new mothers (or the 45 that guarantee it for new fathers)? Answer: None, because paid family leave is part of doing business in the rest of the world.

Paid family leave levels the playing field. Employees no longer have to make a choice between taking care of their families and earning a living. When every worker has access to paid family leave benefits, every business is free to compete on an equal footing for those workers.

Under New Jersey’s program (soon to be signed by Gov. John Corzine), workers can take up to six weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn or sick relative. The benefit, up to $524 a week, will be paid for entirely through employee contributions, totaling about $33 a year.

And you know what? It will work – for both parents and employers. California’s experience is particularly instructive: 89 percent of workers returned to their jobs following a leave in companies that offered paid family leave, compared with 80 percent in organizations that did not.

The “we can’t compete” drumbeat sounded by the business lobby there doesn’t pass the straight face test. Which won’t keep them from trying, but in the meantime, that’s one small step for citizens of the Garden State – hopefully the rest of the country won’t be far behind.

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