Paid Parental Leave

Imagine it’s early June and an 8-month pregnant teacher’s blood pressure spikes dangerously. She loves her work, does it well and hates to take time off. However, her obstetrician  orders complete bed-rest to protect her unborn. Her kindergarten scholars have sneezed and coughed at close-range and so she’s already exhausted her maximum of ten sick days for the year.

Should she take a chance, leave it to fate. hope for the best and show up for work so she can update her bulletin boards and otherwise keep up the pace? Or dare she defy the City of New York and risk a career-threatening “unsatisfactory” performance rating for the year based on poor attendance?

Although most supervisors wouldn’t go that route, it is among the avenues they could take if they wanted to hurt the staff member for an unrelated reason.And there is no doubt that the DOE would fully support any principal’s extreme action.

If a mother needs, for reasons that shouldn’t require an explanation, to use more than 6 weeks’ time to attend to her newborn, she must first drain those days from her “Cumulative Absence Reserve”, provided she has that many days in the “sick bank.”  Chances are she does not. What then?  Well, there’s no contractual prohibition against leaving the newborn at a firehouse.

And if the New York public school teacher is an adoptive mother or father, forget it. They simply don’t count as parents in the view of the City. Such parents must reserve bonding with their infant for when they’re off the company clock.

The City’s Labor Department has not negotiated paid parental leave with these teachers. Paid parental leave is guaranteed to all workers, unionized or not, in every industrialized nation except ours. The benefits universally available and automatically granted are far more generous and varied than even any union has demanded. Paid parental leave is taken for granted and a way of life in many “developing” countries also.

But New York City’s Labor Commissioner Robert Linn erroneously claims that unions have not historically been particularly interested in paid parental leave anyway, but they may be able to secure it if they sacrifice and surrender from the rich storehouse of their existing fringe perks. That’s how he sees it, intimating that the City he loves is not in the charity business.

The City Council held a hearing about paid parental leave and the City didn’t show up.

If paid parental leave were extended to our municipal workers, the total hit to the City’s purse would be small fraction of its budget surplus.

Paid parental leave is an especially sensitive priority to teachers because they have an uncommonly high concentration of women in their ranks. It’s also noteworthy that even in organizations where women enjoy relatively reasonable pair parental leave, those benefits are far greater for executives than for lower-level employees.

No need to look abroad to realize how backward this City is with regard to paid parental leave. Even the private sector has the momentum and has sometimes shamefully beat.

According to Fortune Magazine, even Walmart, a perennial nemesis of unions,gives “ten paid weeks for full-time birth mothers and six weeks at full pay for other new parents.”  They cite other companies, such as Intel, Apple, CVS, Amazon, Starbucks, Facebook and Google among the rapidly expanding list coming on board.

Who could have imagined that the City of New York would trail even corporate bottom-feeder Walmart in instituting a policy of decency and fairness to workers?

United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew’s vigorous advocacy for paid parental leave is on the mark and should be praised and joined by all New Yorkers.

Ron Isaac

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