Sunday, October 22, 2017


Emily James is the Brooklyn high school teacher who started a petition at for the UFT to negotiate family leave rights for parents. Her petition has over 80,000 signatures. It has also ignited an intense debate here between those who favor her position and others who don't think the rest of us should have to pay for it as the city is insisting.

Here is the op-ed Emily wrote in the Daily News this weekend. Her introduction is powerful:

"Miss, why are you here? You need to go home.” These are words my students have said to me many times, on days when I sit at my desk, suffering from strep throat or an infected wisdom tooth, incapacitated, but out of sick days and unable to afford to lose a day’s pay.

Am I chronically ill? No. I am a teacher and a working mother in a New York City public school.

Under the current state of weakness of our union, there is virtually no chance of us getting a paid family leave benefit, or any other, without either a lower raise in the next round of collective bargaining or some kind of giveback.

Employees at large paying for paid family leave is a pattern set by the new state law which grants paid family leave in the private sector.

This is how New York state law is charging all employees for eight weeks of paid leave at a maximum of half of New York's average weekly wage which is $1,305.92 a week.

From the state:
Does Paid Family Leave cost me anything?
New York’s Paid Family Leave is entirely employee-funded. That is, the benefit is paid for by employees.

Employers may collect the cost of Paid Family Leave through payroll deductions. The maximum employee contribution in 2018 shall be 0.126% of an employee’s weekly wage up to the annualized New York State Average Weekly Wage.

Emily James, in addition to the Daily News piece, spoke last month at the UFT Executive Board. Over at Ed Notes, Norm  posted the case Emily made at the Executive Board on Monday followed by something one her co-worker sent in:

Thank you for having me. I’m here to shed light on an issue that has long been important to the parents and children of the DOE. In 2012, I got pregnant with my first daughter. I was so excited, like most first time mothers are. But I didn’t realize then what I know now: that pregnancy marked the beginning of new life for me, not just because I would become a mother, but because I would embark on a long financial struggle that would continue with me for years. My decision with my husband to create a beautiful family of four has left me with my life savings depleted, and in a constant state of panic over not being able to get out of my negative balance.

My story is not unique. Back in May, I started a petition to ask our union to help fight for paid parental leave. Since then, it has exploded: receiving almost 80,000 signatures, and still growing. When I began this petition, I had no idea how many thousands of other women and men were affected by this poor policy. They wrote story after story of how much they have struggled and are still struggling. Women wrote that they are scared to begin a family at all because of this policy, and keep putting it off out of financial fear.  Some wrote about missing rent payments and fearing eviction because they had medical complications before birth and just did not have a cushion to lean on.  Some wrote about leaving the profession all together because they could not fit motherhood into their lives with this lack of support; It was easier for them to turn somewhere else. I received email after email of story after story about people who were so horribly affected.  I wanted to print out the petition comments so you could read all of the stories yourself. But the document was 684 pages long.

This should not be a thing! It should not be a choice for women to be excellent teachers to the students of NYC or to be mothers for their own children. As you know, when we become mothers to our babies, we have to use our sick days in order to be paid for up to 6 weeks, 8 weeks if a C section.  Most of us do not have enough days to cover that time, and if we already had a child, then forget it. Having a baby is not a sickness. Borrowed time is not maternity leave time. It is a loan that many women are never able to pay back. I have been buying back one day a month for a whole year and am still in a negative balance. I need that money to help with my two daughters, my mortgage, my life. This also becomes an issue of gender equality. Men are able to retire with many more days that they can cash in. When we retire, if we have decided to have and raise children, or stay with them until they are 6, 8 or 12 WEEKS old, we will have so many fewer days than most men.

Have you seen what a 6 week old baby looks like? Have you held one? Most of us have to drop that tiny child off to strangers and return to work, and we have had to pay out of pocket just to stay home with them for that short time. They do not sleep through the night. They are still breastfeeding. And then we return, in the negative balance, we are further penalized when we get sick, or when they get sick. Sending a mother of a six week old back to work to teach America’s youth, financially strapped, ridden with anxiety, exhaustion, isn't just bad for that mother. It's bad for everyone.

I'm sure I don't have to point out the irony here. But I will. We dedicate our lives to taking care of other people's children, we become second mothers to them, sometimes first. The system expects that from us, and we deliver. But when it comes time for us to do the bare minimum for our own children, the system forgets us, makes it impossible for us, tells us we are on our own.

This petition is not for me: I am done having children, but this needs to be changed for all of the mothers and fathers of our future.

There are close to 80,000 signatures for this petition. It has gained media attention, national attention, international attention. People are watching us, they are expecting more from us. Studies have shown time and time again that babies benefit immensely from being home with their mothers for the first year of life.  The teachers of the DOE need more.. They deserve more time, they deserve to be paid for it. Why aren’t we fighting for them? Let's not let them, or their children...who become our children...let's not let any of them down.

We pay you our dues dutifully month after month, year after year. You are the only voice we have. We are here in numbers, 80,000 strong, demanding in the most polite way we know how,  that you stop ignoring us, that you help us begin this fight, and don’t stop fighting for us until we make the situation right.
Emily's colleague who could not be here asked Emily to pass this on - I'm leaving her name off since she shares some private medical info.
I gave birth July 10, 2017 - 3 days before my due date. Teachers have said I was “lucky” to be due over the summer. It wasn’t luck. I have been trying to conceive for a couple years, but only had a small window - the month of October of each year. That would give me a late June - early July due date. My due date wasn’t “lucky” - it was meticulously planned. I used apps to track my cycle and ovulation and in October 2016 I bought an ovulation kit. I conceived that month. Had I not gotten pregnant, I would’ve waited another year to try again. I wanted to be due early/mid July. I NEEDED to be due early/mid July. You see, I did not have enough sick days to cover a 6 week maternity leave. I wouldn’t be able to afford taking any unpaid time off.
I only took 4 days off during the entire school year, 3 of them due to my severe morning sickness. I lost 21 pounds the first 6 months and at the time I gave birth, I was still under my pre-pregnancy weight. My pregnancy was considered high risk because of a previous health condition. Despite numerous days of debilitating morning sickness, even in my third trimester, I went to work. There were mornings I vomited in the trash can outside of the school as I waited for security to open the doors for the day. Despite almost passing out on the train station platform during my morning commute, on more than one occasion, I went to work. On the really bad days, I hunched over the platform edge and hurled onto the tracks, then continued to go to work. I could not afford to use any more sick days. I need them just in case I would have to be put on bed rest the last few weeks of my pregnancy. But I survived the school year.
I went into labor and was admitted into the hospital the morning of Monday July 10th. During labor, I ran a fever and had an infection. My daughter was born at 6:49p weighing 5lbs 13oz. My full term baby was the size of a premature baby. She would be in the NICU for the next three days because of my infection.

When I went for my six week postpartum check up on Aug 20th, my doctor recognized I had some postpartum complications and advised I not return to work. Despite being advised to take a significant amount of time off, I quickly referred to the school calendar to figure out that I only had enough sick days to take September off (17 working days). I could not afford to take any unpaid days off.
As of today, September 25, 2017, I am preparing to return to work in a week. My health and well being will just have to take a back seat. My daughter, who is only 11 weeks old as of today, will have to take a back seat.

We are trying to be fair here at ICE. Here is a comment I made in response to people opposing paid family leave or saying the city should pay for it. This is from our September 26 posting.  I agree the city should pay and not give us a lower raise as a result but...

James Eterno said

Let's be serious here. Read the posting. The DOE is not even giving people on unpaid leaves their interest free loan repayment on time. The DOE is making these people wait a year for their money.These officials who have zero heart are suddenly going to grant parental leave without givebacks? I don't think so. The only way we get this without givebacks is if we were able to use our collective power to fight for it. That is not happening just based on the lack of solidarity here. Expect a smaller raise or some other giveback in exchange for parental leave. The UFT is only arguing that the giveback should be much less than what the city managers had to give.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017 4:34:00 AM

Anonymous Anonymous said...
James, that is the entire point. We ARE expecting givebacks and that is why the majority of people posting here are angry. We are pissed at the mere thought of givebacks. We would rather see not paid maternity paid leave if there are givebacks. We are not women haters here. We are rational men and women who understand the deep responsibilities and ramifications involved in planning and raising a child. We understand that having a child is a planned choice and is different from getting ill where insurance is needed. We do not think that it is fair that we will end up losing sick bank days or a possible larger raise to fund paid maternity leave especially if we already had kids or choose to never have kids of our own. Paid maternity leave punishes those of us who are responsible enough to pay for kids on our own or who choose to never have kids. If the city wants paid maternity leave based on givebacks, the only people who should be effected by this are those who are planning on having kids. Maybe set up a system where teachers who want kids can opt in to a paid maternity leave plan where they get less sick days per year or a reduction in pay. I was talking about the possibility of teachers loosing sick days to pay for maternity leave with a group of female teachers yesterday and they all agree that it is not fair to those of us who choose to never have kids.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017 5:02:00 AM

A follow up:

Tuesday, September 26, 2017 6:47:00 PM
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Chances are if a future parent doesn't have three or more children then they will actually lose money from any "deal" that is made. Nobody is going to be smart enough to run the numbers. Most people having kids will be younger and making less money. Even giving up a half percent will bite them in the rear over the long run. Forget about the rest of us who had kids already or will never have any. 

This important discussion is taking place here at ICE. I am good with that. Just try to stay on topic and be professional.


Anonymous said...

Make it like the 25/55. You can opt in and pay for it or not take it.

Anonymous said...

I thought liberals were all about taking from those who have and giving it to those who need. All those liberal teachers who want everyone to share the wealth should share their sick days.

Anonymous said...

A forced deduction option, if nobody pays, nobody gets it. Sounds fair.

RBE said...

UFT leadership, which has been sucking up to Cuomo last few years, should use the Cuomo/De Blasio rift to suck up to Cuomo some more, note what Cuomo signed and say "How come de Blasio, big liberal that he is, can't do for teachers what Cuomo did for the workers of this state?"

Cuomo chomps at the bit to stick it to de Blasio any way he can. He'd love to make de Blasio look bad on this, especially since it costs him nothing.

UFT leadership is probably too far up de Blasio's ass to want to do this and of course it could backfire pre-contract negotiations.

But giving Farina/de Blasio what they wanted in terms of givebacks is absurd.

Personally I like the opt in/out idea mentioned above best.

But I doubt that will come to pass because it makes too much sense and, as we know with the UFT and the DOE, nothing they agree to makes any sense.

James Eterno said...

Most people could live with the opt in opt out idea. I think that is true but the Cuomo and city managers pattern is that everyone pays.

Anonymous said...

Look for the UFT to negotiate 5 sick days per year instead of 10. The city has wanted this for some time and will now use paid maternity leave as the excuse. Teaching is becoming impossible mostly because of UFT capitulations. That's not to say I'm unsympathetic to paid maternity leave but we who have had our children or have will have none by choice or not shouldn't have to pay for it.

Bronx ATR said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

If there are givebacks for "paid" maternity leave then it is not "paid" at all. This whole situation reminds me of the 2005 contract when we got a "raise" but ended up working more hours. There is only 2 options to make "paid" maternity leave fair. 1) The taxpayers will fund it entirely. 2) Teachers who want to have kids will have some form of reduced sick days or pay. Any other givebacks that effect teachers who already had kids or choose not to have kids should NOT PAY A RED CENT. I really think that a lot of people do not understand the amount of strife that will happen if teachers who already had kids or don't want them have to provide givebacks to teachers who want to get pregnant. This has the chance to get real sour, real quick.

Anonymous said...

I am looking into my crystal ball and I predict the paid maternity leave debate is going to get ugly real quick.

Anonymous said...

Emily James would not benefit from paid maternity leave. That is reality.

Anonymous said...

They should negotiate for an optional maternity fund that a member can contribute into if they want to save up some funds in advance. Kind of like a 529 Plan for education savings. This should be an individual decision. No one should have to pay for other people to bring their children into the world.

Anonymous said...

Don’t have children if you can’t afford them! Teachers have a right to take off 12 weeks, it’s Boone’s job to support you during that time but your own. If you can’t save days, then save money to stay out those weeks. Sacrifice somewhere in your life. I have two kids, 90 days in the CAR and no partner. I sacrificed, I went into work sick, I planned doctors appointments and tests for after school.

I hate how we ask for give me, give me, give me, without looking in the mirror and acknowledging our own huge role in this. Women have made it work for 70 years, find a way! Everyone wants the new car, 3000sqft house, and now maternity leave. It’s just sickening.

Anonymous said...

If the city pays for it with some of their surplus revenue, not with a lower raise in 2018, I'm fine with it.

Anonymous said...

5% over 28 months is pattern, plus a small signing bonus, we will see.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, considering how bad the last deal was, 2.5% in 12/18 and 2.5% in 12/19 plus lets say $750 wouldnt be the worst...

Harris L. said...

I’m not going to get into the substance of this debate, which I find lamentable for many reasons.

I just want to say that the ‘opt-in’ concept that many folks here propose won’t work: there is no way to fund a meaningful paid-leave program by charging the fewer number of members who’d claim the benefit a large deduction rather than charge everyone a much smaller deduction.

Yes, the DOE should pay for it. It probably won’t.

The reason we occasionally talk about ‘solidarity’ in the labor movement is because there once was a sense that we’re all in this fight together.

Debate is good. The failure by most commenters here today (presumably men) to embrace fully our sisters and to take their concerns seriously is not so good.

Anonymous said...

If the city does not pay for it, we are getting screwed again. No doubt about it. If we all have to pay by losing some sick days, it is a terrible deal.

Anonymous said...

Still not in favor of paid leave if it means we collectively lose sick days. Teachers need their sick days for a variety of illnesses. The more stressful the job becomes, the more often teachers become physically ill as a result. I'm not willing to put the needs of teachers who are new mothers over the needs of teachers who get sick. What makes one group's needs more imortant than the other? CAR days should be freed up for child care and care for ill family. Roseanne McCosh

Anonymous said...

Nobody puts a gun to your head and forces you to have a kid. It is a choice. If you choose to have a kid, be prepared to pay for it and don't expect me to pay for it. (Or save up days in your CAR) All these young teachers harping for paid maternity leave should simply work for a while in the DOE to save up CAR days. However, they want everything now, now, now. Maternity leave is not comparable to health insurance. Everybody gets sick and that is why we all have paid health insurance. Not everybody wants kids. Therefore, we should not have to pay for maternity leave.

Anonymous said...

Teachers already have 10 weeks of paid summer vacation,every major holiday off with pay as well as paid winter breaks and paid spring breaks. What would teachers be willing to do to allow teachers who choose to have a baby during the school year to be paid for 12 weeks in addition to all that other time they are already being paid?

Anonymous said...

President Donald Trump tweeted Monday there will be no change to a popular retirement savings plan under the new GOP tax bill.

"There will be NO change to your 401(k). This has always been a great and popular middle class tax break that works, and it stays!" Trump said in a tweet.

Anonymous said...

Trump has said a lot of things in tweets...only to forget or completely 180 in no time... You trust him?