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After a Long Fought Battle, New York City Teachers to Get Paid Parental Leave

New York City teachers will be eligible for six weeks of paid parental leave beginning on September 4, putting an end to a policy that forced new parents to hoard sick days that they could use when their baby arrived. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and United Federation of Teachers president Michael Mulgrew made the announcement on Wednesday afternoon at City Hall. 

New fathers, those adopting a baby, and those taking in a new foster child are also eligible for the six-week leave with full salary. 

Birth mothers qualify for even more paid time off—as much as 14 weeks—if they combine the six weeks leave with any unused sick days. (New York City teachers get 10 paid sick days per year, so they'd have to save up to four years' worth of sick days to add the eight extra weeks onto their leave.)

Before the new parental leave policy, saving up sick days was the only option for expecting mothers looking to spend time with their newborns without breaking the bank. The mayor acknowledged the injustice of their situation. "No teacher should have to come to school sick because they're saving their sick days to have a baby," de Blasio said. "That's not fair to our teachers and that's not fair to our students. Today, we right that wrong and make the city a little fairer."

Jennifer DiBerardino, a kindergarten special education teacher who is expecting a baby boy in November, said she was "thrilled" with the change. "This is amazing," she said at the announcement at city hall. "I will get to spend time at home with my son." In a photo the United Federation of Teachers tweeted from the event, DiBerardino appears on the right (see below).


The Battle for Parental Leave

New York City teachers can count themselves among the lucky few with parental leave. More often than not, U.S. teachers must use paid vacation or sick days to cover time off after childbirth or adoption.

Last October, California lawmakers tried to provide teachers with leave time, but a bill that would have required school districts, charter schools, and community colleges to pay for a minimum of six weeks leave for pregnancy, childbirth, or miscarriage, was vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown.

Some school districts nationwide are starting, however, to provide free childcare for their teachers in the hopes of boosting retention and recruitment efforts, as Sarah D. Sparks reports.

For the United Federation of Teachers and its members, Wednesday's announcement caps a long battle for fair treatment. In December 2015, the city granted parental leave to 20,000 non-unionized city managers, but not to unionized city workers. The union says it has been in negotiations with the education department ever since. But it was at the urging of two teachers, who garnered nearly 90,000 signatures in their 2017 online petition, that the UFT launched a campaign for paid parental leave. Thousands joined, writing letters to the mayor and attending rallies.

"It's been a long fight to be treated fairly, and that wrong has finally been righted," UFT president Mulgrew said.

The 120,000 UFT members who now qualify for maternity, paternity, and foster care leave include teachers, teachers' aides, guidance counselors, nurses, and school safety supervisors. They qualify for the benefit after working for one calendar year. On average, up to 4,000 UFT members each year take leave for pregnancy or childbirth.

The union will offset the estimated $50 million price tag by extending current UFT contracts that are scheduled to expire in November of this year by roughly two and half months. The move saves money by delaying employee raises. The city will continue to pay for teachers' health care during their leave.

The last step to finalize the agreement took place on Wednesday evening when the union's highest policymaking group, the UFT Delegate Assembly, gave the agreement its stamp of approval.

"Our educators give so much to the children in their classrooms," Mulgrew said.  "Now, New York City has a way for educators to spend more time with their own children." 


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