President's perspective

All our children

Michael Mulgrew 2015 PortraitMichael Mulgrew UFT members spend their days nurturing and supporting other people’s children, yet the Department of Education’s current parental leave policy forces them to choose between their newborns and earning a paycheck that is critical to the wellbeing of their families.

Under the paltry policy now in place, women who give birth can use up to six weeks of sick days — or eight weeks if the birth is by C-section — combined with the 12 weeks of unpaid leave offered under federal law.

Educators bank their sick days in anticipation of a pregnancy. But many then exhaust their sick bank after having their first child and are forced to return to work after less than six weeks with their subsequent children because they don’t have any days left.

Couples, including same-sex couples or others who adopt, foster parents and fathers have been left out in the cold under the current policy.

Right now, as teacher Emily James put it, “When the people who dedicate their lives to taking care of other people’s children decide to start a family, they are left on their own.”

As members of a union, we know how important it is that we stand together to advocate not only for ourselves, but for those who will benefit down the line. We pay it forward. That’s why many older or childless teachers have told us we need to take on this fight for the thousands of educators who deserve this benefit in the future.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced nearly two years ago that all New York City employees having a child should be entitled to paid parental leave. Unfortunately, City Hall’s policy hasn’t matched its rhetoric.

For nearly two years, we have been negotiating with the city on parental leave, but have been unable to reach agreement with the administration.

The de Blasio administration unveiled its program in December 2015 with an executive order that gave nonunion, managerial city workers six weeks of parental leave at full salary. To fund this benefit, the administration unilaterally took back a significant piece of a scheduled raise from all managers and an additional two days of vacation from the most senior ones.

A recent analysis by the city’s Independent Budget Office found that city managers lost far more than they gained. The deal was a bonanza for the city, which made a profit of nearly $5.8 million on this policy, which it was able to impose on its managers without a collective bargaining process.

I’m committed to securing a fairer deal for our members. The cost of paid parental leave for the city will not break the bank, in part because the temporary vacancies produced by teachers on leave will be filled by substitute teachers, who typically cost the city less.

We know that infants benefit from being home with their parents in their first and most vulnerable months of life. We know that if we are to keep the educators we have and attract a new generation of educators to our schools, there needs to be a paid parental leave policy in place that gives them peace of mind.

We support a policy that would provide both women and men with paid parental leave, including in cases of adoption and foster care. It is time for the city to negotiate seriously with us.

Other cities as disparate as Atlanta, Seattle and Cambridge, Massachusetts, have found ways to pay for parental leave. And New York City — which should be at the forefront of efforts to pioneer progressive policies for city workers — can, too.

If you haven’t already done so, please join our paid parental leave campaign. Together we can win this fight.

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