Photographer: John Minchillo/AP Images for Chobani

Chobani Gives Parental Leave as Issue Escalates in U.S. Election

  • Yogurt company provides paid six weeks off to 2,000 workers
  • Perk remains rare as U.S. trails other industrialized nations

Chobani, the Greek yogurt company run by billionaire Hamdi Ulukaya, is offering six weeks of paid parental leave to its more than 2,000 employees, mostly factory workers who typically aren’t awarded such perks.

The move puts Chobani at the center of an issue that finds rare agreement between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump in the contentious 2016 U.S. presidential election. Both have released family-leave plans in recent weeks, marking the first time in U.S. history that candidates from the two major parties are offering proposals to mandate the benefit.

“Being a dad is also the hardest job I’ve ever had,” Ulukaya, who became a father this year, said in a letter to employees Wednesday. “It started a lot of conversations with folks about how we can better support new parents here at Chobani.”

Parental leave, which allows time off for the birth of a child, has become a popular employee perk on Wall Street and in Silicon Valley as firms vie to attract and keep younger workers. But while the percentage of large corporations offering paid time off hit an all-time high last year of 21 percent, a majority of U.S. workers don’t qualify and more than 40 percent aren’t guaranteed even unpaid leave.

U.S. Lags

Companies such as Netflix Inc., Facebook Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Credit Suisse Group AG have expanded their paid parental leave in recent years. Still, the U.S. remains the only industrialized country that doesn’t require paid time off for mothers following the birth of a child, according to the United Nations.

Clinton’s plan would guarantee all Americans up to 12 weeks of leave at 66 percent of their regular income, with a ceiling on the wages. Trump, meanwhile, has proposed giving new mothers six weeks of paid maternity leave if their employers don’t offer the benefit. Chobani is offering the perk to both mothers and fathers, even if a child is adopted.

Under the U.S. Family Medical Leave Act of 1993, companies with more than 50 employees must offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave and protect the parent’s job. If the employee has worked for less than a year or the company has fewer than 50 people, there is no such requirement. That leaves about 44 percent of workers without unpaid leave.

Takeover Spurned

Ulukaya, a 44-year-old Turkish immigrant, founded Chobani after purchasing a defunct Kraft Foods yogurt plant in upstate New York in 2005. He started selling yogurt two years later, and by 2012 the company had hit $1 billion in sales.

The rapid expansion led to production hiccups and a cash crunch, but the company has since regained its footing with help from private equity firm TPG Capital. Last year, Chobani hired Goldman Sachs Group Inc. to explore the sale of a minority stake, though Ulukaya ultimately spurned a takeover offer from PepsiCo Inc., which wanted to own a majority of the company.

Chobani’s parental-leave policy comes on the heels of Ulukaya’s announcement in April that he would give employees stock worth up to 10 percent of the closely held company, should it be sold or go public.

“I’ve always believed that when we take a step, we take it together,” Ulukaya said.

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