Testimony submitted to the joint Committees on Civil Service and Labor and Economic Development of the New York City Council
The United Federation of Teachers (UFT) wishes to thank Chairs I. Daneek Miller and Daniel Garodnick and the Committees on Civil Service and Labor and Economic Development for the opportunity to share our views on establishing paid family leave.
On behalf of the 200,000 members of the UFT, we strongly support establishing paid family leave. Further, we commend your committees for taking the time to review this important issue affecting every employee of the City of New York.
The UFT has worked over the years to extend the current policy because it doesn’t apply fairly to the needs of our members’ families. Leave granted via sick days for women giving birth naturally for six weeks or via caesarean section for eight weeks doesn’t address adoption or foster care, plus it completely dismisses the needs of partners deserving comparable leave.
It’s well-known that, historically, women are the overwhelming majority of our union’s members. Importantly, the city just hired almost 5,800 new teachers. From our perspective, getting paid leave right is a retention imperative.
While discussions over the inadequacy of the city’s policy have been ongoing, we need action. The UFT applauds Mayor Bill de Blasio for taking the lead on keeping working families whole, recognizing that policies from a bygone era undermine the financial stability of today’s workforce. Negotiations are never easy. But, we hope to conclude negotiations for paid family leave that are both fair and affordable for our union — and the administration.
Affording both parents and partners paid leave contributes to the family’s overall health and well-being and makes sound financial sense. Citing research from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, health and science journalist Rita Rubin reports on the connection of “paid maternity leave to better health for mothers and babies–lower rates of postpartum depression and newborn and infant mortality and higher rates of breastfeeding and childhood immunizations.”1
There’s a salutary social and economic benefit to paternity leave, according to a review of studies of leading nations from The Economist. Noting that paternity leave is often limited and more often low paid or unpaid, it still has a positive impact on secondary school performance for the children. Additionally, women’s career trajectory improves when partners share childcare duties. This of course skews toward benefitting higher income earners, as many lower income families can ill afford unpaid leave, no matter the time frame allotted.2
When our officers and representatives go into the schools and offices where our members work, it should come as no surprise that this is a pressing issue members raise over and over again. Family leave should never be relegated to only the few who can afford to be home with new babies.
Our union is deeply committed to equity and access to health and financial wellness for all working people in our city, most especially our own members. Shifting the paradigm from unpaid to paid benefits comes at a cost. Reiterating our earlier point, the cost must be fair and affordable for all parties. The UFT stands ready to work together with the administration to finalize the details on bringing this important policy change to conclusion.
Again, we thank the Committees on Civil Service and Labor and Economic Development for leading the City Council’s advocacy on behalf of our city’s workers, many who come from families making tough financial choices.
1 “U.S. Dead Last Among Developed Countries When It Comes To Paid Maternity Leave,” Rita Rubin, Forbes, April 6, 2016
2 “The benefits of paternity leave,” The Economist, May 14, 2015