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UFT wins agreement for paid parental leave

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (center) stands with members, their spouses and ch Jonathan Fickies

UFT President Michael Mulgrew (center) stands with members, their spouses and children who took part in the campaign to win paid parental leave for New York City public school educators at a City Hall press conference on June 20 announcing the agreement. Joining them is City Council Education Committee Chair Mark Treyger (left).

After months of intense negotiations and a public campaign by UFT members, the union and the Department of Education have reached an agreement that will provide paid parental leave for New York City public school educators.

UFT President Michael Mulgrew and Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the deal at a press conference at City Hall on June 20, and the UFT’s Delegate Assembly unanimously approved it hours later.

The policy, which will take effect on Sept. 4, 2018, provides six weeks of time off at full salary for maternity, paternity, adoption and foster care leave. When combined with current sick leave provisions, the new policy will allow birth mothers to take up to 12 to 14 weeks of paid leave after giving birth.

“This is an extremely significant day in the history of our union,” said Mulgrew, recalling that when the UFT was founded in 1960, teachers who became pregnant were automatically fired.

“It’s been a long fight to be treated fairly, and that wrong has finally been righted,” Mulgrew said.

The new policy will be funded by a 73-day extension of the existing UFT contracts with the DOE and the city, which were scheduled to expire on Nov. 30 of this year.

The UFT launched its campaign for paid parental leave in November 2017 after nearly two years of behind-the-scenes negotiations with the DOE failed to make headway. Thousands of members joined the campaign. Some shared deeply personal stories about how lack of paid parental leave had affected them and their families, while others sent letters urging the mayor to support a fair policy, signed petitions or attended rallies. Many UFT chapters organized baby showers and wore purple on International Women’s Day to call attention to the issue.

“No one does more to shape the future of our city than our teachers,” de Blasio said at the press conference. “But our first responsibility is to be the greatest teachers to our own children. UFT members fought long and hard for paid parental leave, and it’s a fight you won for the right cause.”

At the Delegate Assembly, nearly every delegate stood when Mulgrew asked those who had participated in the campaign to rise.

In 2016, de Blasio introduced six weeks of fully paid time off for mothers and fathers upon the birth or adoption of a child. But the new policy applied only to about 20,000 managerial employees. To fund the benefit, the administration canceled a 0.47 percent pay increase for some managers and took back two vacation days from the most senior ones. And starting early this year, a state law gave most private employees up to eight weeks of paid family leave, but the law did not apply to public employees.

Mulgrew and de Blasio were joined at the press conference by several teachers who played instrumental roles in the campaign, including Emily James, a teacher at Brooklyn Preparatory HS [see story below]. James’ petition advocating for paid parental leave collected more than 80,000 signatures.

“It brought out the fighter in me,” said Eric Rubin-Perez, a school counselor at the John F. Kennedy Jr. School in Queens, who testified at a City Council hearing in April about his experience as a father who was denied paid leave. “It taught me how important it is to fight for what you believe in. I’m very proud to see this through to the finish line.”

Melody Anastasiou, the chapter leader at PS 68 on Staten Island, presented the resolution supporting the agreement to the Delegate Assembly while holding her baby daughter, Zoe. Anastasiou said she was grateful to have contributed to the victory even though she wouldn’t be able to take advantage of the new policy.

“We all need to stick together to benefit,” she said. “That’s what being in a union is about.”

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