This week’s post comes out of work that I’m doing with a group of teachers at my school to advocate for better family leave policies for teachers in New York City. As readers of the blog know, I’m the leader of my school’s chapter of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) so I approach this issue as an advocate for members who have been impacted by the current state of disarray in family leave policy not an expert. We would love to incorporate others’ stories into our advocacy work. Please reach out to me — via my Twitter handle at the bottom of the page or in the comments section — if you have a story or experience that illustrates the importance of family leave.
Of all professions wouldn’t you think that teachers would have access to a family leave policy that supports healthy children and families?
Shouldn’t education decision-makers be enthusiastically committed to a necessary policy for healthy child development? The National Center for Children in Poverty: “It is well established that the experience of interacting with familiar, responsive and stimulating primary caregivers during the first two years of life is critically important to a child’s social, emotional and intellectual development.”
Shouldn’t the organizations representing a labor force that is 76% female be dedicated to supporting mothers?
Shouldn’t government employees who spend their day supporting children from other people’s families also have support in dealing with health emergencies in their own families?
Educational leaders, administrators, and teacher union leaders should be at the forefront of the struggle to create a society where family members who devote time to caring for loved ones are “supported not shut out.”
Do you recognize that line? It’s not from the policy handbook of my school district or union. Nor is it from a speech by the presidential candidate that my union has endorsed.
In her introduction on the night her father accepted the Republican party’s nomination for president, Ivanka Trump claimed that her father’s business was one where: “Women are paid equally for the work that we do and when a woman becomes a mother, she is supported, not shut out.”
She went on: “As President, my father will change the labor laws that were put into place at a time when women were not a significant portion of the workforce. And he will focus on making quality child care affordable and accessible for all.”
There is some question about whether or not a President Trump would effectively follow through with his daughter’s promise. Family leave wasn’t mentioned in either the candidate’s speech that night or in the platform adopted at the meeting. Since Ms. Trump’s speech we’ve learned that the child care programs touted by Trump supporters actually serve guests at his hotels and not employees. The one substantive policy proposal in this area from the campaign, a tax deduction for child care expenses, would provide “no advantage” for low income families and would instead go mostly to those earning high incomes.
So “Trump reality” may differ from “Trump rhetoric” on this issue, but I remain impressed by the aspiration set forth my Ms. Trump: family caregivers should be “supported not shut out.”
In my experience, New York City teachers who take time to provide care for family members are much more likely to be shut out than supported.
- A member of my chapter came to me at the beginning of last summer confused about why her summer pay was docked. It turns out that the policy related to the unpaid leave she had taken to care for her 6 week old daughter at the beginning of the school year was correctly applied, but when she called Human Resources and our union office she was made to feel ashamed, like she was wrong for wanting to be with her daughter. It took several hours of phone calls for her to get a clear explanation of the policy.
- A friend of mine who became a father while teaching informed his principal that he would be exercising his right to unpaid leave in order to be spend time bonding with his twin sons. The administrator literally laughed at him, then tried to talk him out of it.
- Teachers feel pressure to avoid taking time away from school to care for sick children, parents, or other family members. Our policy states that teachers can only take three such days and that they must inform administration in advance of this type of absence. Both the tiny number of days eligible for this kind of absence and the advanced notice requirement have created hardships for several of our chapter members.
In April the New York City Council passed one of the most progressive family leave acts in the US. While the twelve paid weeks are paltry compared to family leave in other industrialized nations, the law represents a real step forward for children, older adults, and families in our city and in our nation.
It does not, however, help those of us who are teachers.
The bill exempts teachers and other city employees who have collective bargaining contracts with the city. Our union is in the process of negotiating a separate policy with the Department of Education. As I post this, we can’t find anyone involved to explain why — months later — we still don’t have an agreement. That means teachers who need to take family leave are subject to the old draconian system.
An expectant father makes plans to bond with his newborn child in three personal days. A pregnant teacher rushes to after school doctors appointments for prenatal care so that she can preserve “sick days” to bond with her child after the birth. Teachers’ sick family members delay care until they can get a rare evening or weekend appointment.
Of course, these consequences are not only felt by teachers but also by their loved ones: infants, sick toddlers, seniors with chronic pain, people with developmental disabilities. These are the family members most hurt by the current policy. Perhaps most shamefully for an institution proclaiming to be dedicated to the development of children, lack of access to paid family leave denies young children “positive cognitive and behavioral outcomes” that come from early parental bonding. This destabilizing policy will create problems which teachers will then be asked to address once the children reach school age.
What is taking so long? Is the DOE refusing to provide this crucial support, which many DOE administrators already enjoy themselves? Is this not a priority for our union leadership? What’s the hold up?
Surely we are better than this as a Department of Education and as the nation’s largest local union. Teachers and our families should be supported like other city employees and not shut out the way we have been for far too long.
How has inadequate family leave impacted your family or community? If you live outside of New York City, what movements are taking place to support children and families through paid family leave for school employees where you are? What can NYC learn from your struggle?
If you live in New York City, how has the 5-months-and-counting delay in the negotiations between the NYCDOE and the UFT impacted you?
Please share your story in the comments or via Twitter.
Photo by Unsplash //pixabay.com/en/baby-couple-wedding-rings-woman-1150109/. Lack of access to crucial child bonding time for parents at the beginning of thousands of newborns lives is only one sad outcome a delayed agreement to establish paid family leave for teachers.
The opinions expressed in Prove It: Math and Education Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.