When Mayor de Blasio signed a much-touted order mandating paid parental leave for city employees, he said "the last thing new parents should have to worry about is their financial and professional security."
But two years later, thousands of city workers are still worrying about just that — because the city's order applied to just 20,000 managerial employees, not the unionized workers who make up the bulk of the city's payroll.
"I keep trying to get this done and the city keeps hemming and hawing and there's always a reason, 'Oh we'll get back to you,'" United Federation of Teachers President Michael Mulgrew told the Daily News. "There clearly isn't a political will to get it done."
But Mulgrew is hoping to apply a little political pressure as his contract — and those of many other municipal unions — wind down this year. He'll attend a rally on the City Hall steps with Councilman Mark Treyger, the education chairman, to call attention to the complete lack of paid parental leave for the city's school teachers.
"They've been hearing the term paid family leave from a variety of politicians, but when you actually examine up close the policies for working families, there is no such thing," he said.
For teachers, if they want to be paid during parental leave, they've got to use accumulated sick time. If they don't have enough, they can buy future days — and end their parental leave indebted to the city.
In January, Walmart announced it would offer full-time hourly workers 10 weeks of maternity leave at full pay, and fathers and partners 6 weeks.
"What does it say that Walmart shows a better commitment to working families?" Treyger asked.
For unionized workers, such policies must be hashed out as part of their collective bargaining agreement. But Mulgrew argued that, after the mayor full-throatedly embraced the benefits of paid leave for parents in other jobs, it ought not be a bargaining chip.
"The fact that somebody would say that this is good for all workers and then try to manipulate a process, to try to create leverage for it, to try to get something else out of those workers, to me, is disingenuous — and nobody should be taking political victory laps," Mulgrew said.
He said it was "nefarious" that the city especially sought to get concessions for the benefits from the UFT because "you're the union that is mostly female."
"This is supposed to be about paid parental leave," he said.
The managerial workers gave up raises and vacation days in exchange for the paid parental leave. City Hall argues the program would cost $1 billion over four years if extended to all UFT workers.
"This administration cares deeply about ensuring the city's most dedicated public servants have the benefits they deserve, including paid parental leave. We're currently in discussion with the UFT over this very topic and hope to come to an agreement soon," de Blasio spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said.
Among those the policy might have helped is Melody Anastasiou, 33, who teaches and lives on Staten Island. She had her second child, Zoe, in December, and was prepared to take four weeks off without pay, in addition to some sick time, to stay home — even though it wouldn't be enough to be considered fully healed from her C-section.
But due to health issues Zoe has had digesting milk proteins, she's had to extend her leave — and is going on her ninth week of not being paid.
"The time that I did get paid, that's coming out of my sick days. And you know what?" she asked. "I wasn't sick. I grew a human being."
Anastasiou worked until the very end of her pregnancy. She recalled a day last year when her son had a stomach bug and got sick — "sick in a way that made 'The Exorcist' look cute" — on the way to school. She had to take the day off to take care of him.
"It killed me because there was that twinge of, 'And there's a day, I just lost a day,'" she said. "That's insane. I should have only been focused on my son's health."
In addition to her unpaid time off, Anastasiou is also minus 16 days for sick time she bought from the future. She can either pay it out, or earn one day on the 16th of every month, and hope she or her children don't get sick to eat away at that balance again.
She said everyone — men and women, those who adopt or have a foster child — ought to have paid time to bond with their children.
"We're telling people to then go unpaid immediately," she said of the current policy. "That's horrific. I would be ashamed if I was putting families through that."
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