A petition has taken off at Change.org demanding that New York City teachers be granted paid maternity leave. The petition has gone viral so Chalkbeat
has covered the story. Emily James is the teacher who started the petition that now has over 56,000 signatures and is adding more rapidly. That is quite impressive.
Here is the language straight from the petition
New York City Department of Education currently offers their teachers who have just become mothers NO PAID maternity leave. These are women who devote their lives to helping raise other people's children.
After getting pregnant in 2012, I went to a maternity workshop to help understand my maternity benefits. It began as a room full of bubbly, pregnant women, and ended with many of us in tears.
Most women never make it out of their negative balance. If you have more than one child, forget it! You have likely borrowed all you can for the first. When I had my second daughter, even after two years of excellent attendance, I only was able to get paid for seven days after I gave birth.
This is completely common among teaching mothers.
For all our union fights for, I'm asking Michael Mulgrew, our Union President: When will the fight begin for our teaching mothers? As an education system, we are well aware of the importance a parent's presence has on his/her child. Yet why don't we value that? Why do women who spend day in and day out educating, nurturing, and supporting other people's children, continue to suffer for having a family of their own? We are the teachers and the mothers of this city-- a city that prides itself on being one of the most progressive and socially conscious cities in the world- and we deserve to be fought for.
- Here is what we learned: In order to get paid for up to SIX WEEKS (you read that right-not months, weeks) we would have to use our own small number of saved sick days. If we had none, or few (which was the case for most of us, being around children all day long) we learned that we could borrow up to 20 days that we would eventually have to repay or rebuy.
Thanks for doing this Ms. James. Now for a few details on this issue.
Our so called progressive mayor, Bill de Blasio, will offer paid family leave to UFT members but only if every UFT member pays for it. The city won't cough up one extra dime for its teachers who are mothers in spite of the city's surplus
and the UFT won't demand that the city pays for it.
The city granted certain non-union city employees (mostly managers) six weeks of paid leave (12 weeks when combined with existing leave) at the end of 2015. The catch is the employees have to pay for it themselves. This is from the Mayor's news page
The new benefit comes at no new cost to New York City taxpayers: the personnel order repurposes an existing managerial raise of 0.47 percent scheduled for July 2017 and caps vacation time at 25 days for the 20,000 employees covered by this benefit.
To put it another way, all 20,000 employees are paying for the benefit for the new parents by forfeiting part of a raise and limiting their vacation time. The city wants unionized employees to pay for a paid childcare benefit too.
The UFT has been trying to negotiate a paid family leave benefit since early 2016. Why has leadership not succeeded?
The cost to all
UFT members is outrageous.
UFT President Michael Mulgrew reported the following at the January 2016 Delegate Assembly
Mayor looking to make it work. We will be negotiating with city on paid maternity leave. Some who have older kids don't want to pay for this. We can be creative on paying for it.
As of this year, the negotiations continue. What is on the table?
A source told me the city wants to charge every UFT member five sick days per year to provide the paid family leave benefit. Right now teachers are entitled to ten sick days per year. If we get the new benefit, all of us would go down to five sick days per year if the source is accurate.
Do you want to go down to five sick days per year or concede a similar giveback so that we can get paid family leave?
The likely outcome of all of this is that paid family leave will end up in the next contract and it will be paid for by lowering the salary increase all UFT members receive because the city will not put in additional money for its unionized workforce. Why won't the city fork over some additional money for its hardworking employees who are parents? Union members en masse won't fight for it.
We will only get the paid family leave from the city in addition to a decent raise and better working conditions if we organize as a union and demand it from below. Maybe the petition will be a springboard to push a movement forward. We have to stop expecting things to come from the Mayor and UFT President.
P.S. If anyone wants to know how the UFT leadership really feels about new mothers, please read our account of the October 2015 Delegate Assembly. When UFT members are on unpaid childcare leave or other unpaid leaves, they do not get the retroactive payments from the 2009-2011 contract that other city unions had added to their pay back then that we are waiting until 2020 to be paid back fully without interest. They have to wait to be back on payroll to get the back pay.
UFT members received one payment in October 2015 and will get another this October followed by payments in 2018, 2019 and 2020. The Movement of Rank and File Educators proposed that the UFT provide members on unpaid leaves interest free loans for the payments since people on unpaid leave just might need the money immediately since they are not being paid. The UFT leadership said no.
Below is our account of that 2015 Delegate Assembly debate
MULGREW'S UNITY MAJORITY TELLS PARENTS AND SICK MEMBERS ON UNPAID LEAVES TO FEND FOR THEMSELVES
The Unity Caucus is Michael Mulgrew's faction of the UFT. They are the majority political party in the union. At the first Delegate Assembly of the 2015-16 school year Unity proved beyond the shadow of any doubt that making cheap political points is more important to them than helping UFT members in need when they voted down a resolution that would have provided loans for members on unpaid leave up to the amount of retroactive money someone is owed in 2015.
The main rival political group in the union is called MORE which stands for the Movement of Rank and File Educators (full disclosure: ICE supports MORE and I am a ICE-MORE member). MORE will run together in a coalition with another established opposition group called New Action Caucus to challenge Mulgrew-Unity in the 2016 general UFT election.
When MORE leader Jia Lee rose last night at the Delegate Assembly (the highest policy making body in the UFT) to raise a motion for the UFT to find a way to provide interest free loans to members in need who are on unpaid restoration of health, maternity or child care leaves, Unity decided they would rather score extremely cheap political points and voted against helping their own members in need.
There is a loophole in the 2014 contract that says someone has to be "continuously employed" to receive the retroactive money from 2009-2011 that other city workers received in those years that UFT members will receive piecemeal between now and 2020. Our employer, the Department of Educations-City of New York, interprets continuously employed to mean on payroll.
Our friend John Elfrank, longtime Chapter Leader of Murry Bergtraum High School, is recovering from surgery and on unpaid leave. He came to MORE and told us that it is unconscionable that because someone is on an unpaid leave that they should be told they have to wait for at least two years for the next payout date in 2017 to get retroactive money they worked for from 2009-11. John is taking this up with the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission after being denied money from the Department of Education and denied support from the UFT. He asked MORE's leadership if we would write something for the union to loan people on unpaid leave their retro.
MORE's Steering Committee said yes and asked me to write something up. I had help and inspiration from MORE's Mike Schirtzer, Julie Cavanagh, and Jia Lee along with Elfrank and we wrote the following resolution for the DA.
DA Resolution on Immediate Retroactive Money for UFT Members on Unpaid Leave for Maternity, Child Care and/or Restoration of Health
October 14, 2015
WHEREAS, the United Federation of Teachers has a long history of supporting members in need, and
WHEREAS, the 2014 contract did not cover members on unpaid leave for lump sum payments stemming from the 2009-2011 round (arrears) until they are back on payroll or retire, and
WHEREAS, the City of New York ended the 2015 fiscal year with a $5.9 billion surplus, and
WHEREAS, the first 12.5% of the arrears is scheduled to be paid on October 15, 2015, and
WHEREAS, many of our sisters and brothers on unpaid leaves who will not be receiving the arrears for at least two years are having financial hardships as they are not on payroll, be it therefore
RESOLVED, that the union will immediately petition the city to make no interest loans available to UFT members on unpaid leaves who are not receiving their arrears, and be it further
RESOLVED, that if the city refuses to make these loans available, that the UFT will provide immediate, interest free loans to any member on unpaid leave who applies for one up to the amount of arrears the member on unpaid leave is owed as of October 1, 2015, and be it further
RESOLVED, that if the city refuses to make these loans available and the union does not have the means to provide the loans, the Union will arrange with Amalgamated Bank or another labor friendly institution to make low interest loans available to UFT members on unpaid leave who are not receiving their arrears and the UFT, not the borrowers, will pay the interest.
People in MORE made some edits and we thought this would be something that would be passed as a humanitarian gesture for mothers or fathers on childcare leaves and members who are on restoration of health leaves. MORE leader Jia Lee, a mother herself, who is Chapter Leader from the Earth School, agreed to raise the resolution at the October DA.
At the DA meeting, President Michael Mulgrew filibustered for about an hour and a half talking about how wonderful our schools are and how great the union is to have gotten us the retro money (see previous post). He talked so much there was not time for much else. The DA did vote to extend the meeting for ten minutes to have a new motion period.
Jia rose to present the MORE motion for next month's agenda. DA rules require that a majority approve for it to go on next month's agenda. Delegate Mary Ahern raised an objection saying this rule violates Robert's Rules of Order. That is a discussion for another post.
Then a member of the majority Unity Caucus rose to make a point of information asking if MORE was violating Robert's Rules because the resolution was printed on a MORE handout and advertised for MORE on the back of the paper. It also didn't have anything noting that it came from a union printer. The union's parliamentarian said these issues were not covered in Robert's Rules of Order so Jia was able to continue.
She talked about John Elfrank's illness and mothers in her school who could all use the money that they already worked for. She noted the city's $5.9 billion surplus and how the resolution was crafted in a way so these would be loans. (The loans would be secured as the member's future retro could be collateral.) She cited Mulgrew who previously said that medical distress should not mean financial distress.
This resolution is a no-brainer if ever there was one. If the city says no, then the union would loan the money to members on unpaid leave who need it. If the UFT doesn't have the funds, they would secure them from a labor friendly bank and pay the interest.
Unfortunately, the Unity majority would have none of this. The Queens UFT maternity liaison rose to speak against the resolution. She gave a cold-hearted speech that was booed once saying she tells mothers who are going on childcare leave they must consider their situation when taking such a leave. They are making a choice but they will be made whole on retroactive money from a magical chest that will open again in two years. (She didn't bother to talk about those on medical leave.) She concluded by saying she didn't want the union to be involved in making loans.
For political reasons, the Unity majority, who all sign an oath saying they will support caucus positions in public and union forums, voted down the resolution easily. There is sufficient patronage in all expense paid trips to conventions, after-school and full time union jobs that virtually all go to Unity members to keep them in line. They weren't going to go against their in house maternity expert.
There were many new Delegates who attended yesterday's meeting who will probably never return. Some came to Jia afterwards and told her they couldn't believe the union would turn down loaning money to members in need. I wasn't at all surprised because caucus loyalty trumps good policy in the UFT all the time. The union could not let an opposition leader get credit for sponsoring something this important.
Those Delegates probably will never come back but they should.