Karen Humelbaugh now leads the workforce training program and will take over as the Employment Department gears up.

SCREENSHOT - Karen Humelbaugh speaks during a webinar earlier this year. The Oregon Employment Department has hired someone to lead its program for paid family leave in the aftermath of some staff departures, including its acting director, and a complaint alleging discrimination within the team building the program.

Karen Humelbaugh will start her new job Monday, Nov. 1. She has been director of the Office of Workforce Investments in the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission. Counting her time in the job at a predecessor agency — community colleges and workforce development were folded into the commission when it was created in 2013 — she has led state workforce efforts since January 1998.

Acting Director David Gerstenfeld said Humelbaugh has already met with division employees and representatives of interest groups involved in the program. Gerstenfeld himself led that division from fall 2019, after the Oregon Legislature created the program, until he was thrust into his current job in May 2020 after Gov. Kate Brown fired the previous agency director.

"She is hearing what their concerns are, what they want out of her as the new director and changes they want to see in the workplace culture, and their hopes for the program," Gerstenfeld told reporters on a conference call Wednesday, Oct. 27.

"Karen is the ideal person to provide stable, consistent leadership for this vital program. I chose Karen for her proven track record managing many strategic initiatives and unraveling complex governance issues at all levels. She is dedicated to putting the customer first and ensuring equity in access to services for all people in Oregon."

He said among Humelbaugh's first tasks are to recruit and hire other staff, including a deputy director.

Humelbaugh said in a statement released by the Employment Department:

"I've spent my entire career working with industry and worker advocates to work toward prosperity for all Oregonians. Paid leave is a critical safety net that creates an equal playing field for all working families while creating stability for businesses in their workforce."

Humelbaugh will succeed Gerhard Taeubel, who had been acting director and had come from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, where in 18 years he rose to become director of its wage and hour division.

Gerstenfeld said Taeubel told him in August he would leave the position, but that Taeubel's departure was not primarily related to the pending investigation of a complaint alleging discrimination. A lawyer from the Portland firm Barran Liebman, not someone from state government, is assigned to look into it.

Complaint under investigation

Gerstenfeld has declined to describe the nature of the complaint or whether any employees have departed or been disciplined as a result. He said Wednesday he had no timetable for when the investigation would be concluded.

"We are taking action quickly to make sure everybody knows that equity and inclusion — and treating everybody with respect and honoring all different perspectives — are absolutely essential for us for the workplace and the services we provide," he said.

The 2021 Legislature put off deadlines for paid family and medical leave, which would make Oregon the ninth state (plus Washington, D.C.) to institute it by 2024. Payroll contributions from employees (60%) and employers (40%) would start Jan. 1, 2023, and benefit payments would start Sept. 3, 2023.

Oregon's program envisions a maximum of $1,250 per week for up to 12 weeks for workers who earn at least $1,000 the previous calendar year. It is more generous than a federal program that President Joe Biden proposed as part of his Build Back Better agenda, which called for a maximum of $4,000 per month. Biden said Thursday, Oct. 28, that the latest version omits it, given that all the Build Back Better programs are likely to be capped at $1.85 trillion over 10 years, rather than the initial $3.5 trillion target.

National support

A coalition of business groups, under Paid Leave for the United States (PL+US), has urged Congress to include a federal program as part of Biden's agenda. They said such a program would be of particular benefit to women, who have disproportionately left jobs during the coronavirus pandemic to tend to family needs.

Their full statement on Wednesday, Oct. 27:

"As businesses owners, operators and leaders from across the United States, from a range of industries, and from businesses large and small, we urge Congress to meet the moment by passing a comprehensive federal paid family and medical leave policy that provides long-term health benefits and economic security to all American families and contributes to the vitality and sustainability of our businesses.

"We need a policy that is inclusive and that protects all workers equally, regardless of what kind of work they do, where they live, or whom they love. An equitable and comprehensive paid family and medical leave program must include time to welcome a newly arrived child, time to care for a seriously ill family member, and time to care for one's own serious illness.

"With an equal paid leave policy in place, we can help stem the historic tide of women leaving the workforce and ensure that low-wage earners and people of color have the time they need to care for themselves and their families. Access to paid leave also leads to better retention, personal health and improved morale, which contributes to greater stability and viability for our businesses, ultimately helping our bottom line. In short, paid leave is good for business."

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NOTE: Updates story to reflect Biden announcement that latest version of his Build Back Better agenda omits funding for federal program for paid family and medical leave.

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