Teachers Lament Having to 'Hoard' Sick Days
UFT Goads City for Parental-Leave Rights At least Equal to Walmart's
By CRYSTAL LEWIS
“When the Walton family is more progressive than the City of New York — how much sadder can that get?” asked Michael Mulgrew, president of the United Federation of Teachers, at an April 24 press conference demanding paid parental leave for its members.
The union is increasing pressure on the de Blasio administration to grant three months of paid leave for new mothers, fathers and adoptive parents.
City Council Member Mark Treyger, Chair of the Education Committee, noted that Walmart, which has been sued for denying pay for overtime hours and accused of punishing workers for taking sick days, recently enacted paid leave for full-time employees and has shown better commitment to working families than the city has.
He added that there would be many long-term benefits to providing Teachers with paid leave, including improving health outcomes and helping to close the gender pay gap.
“Don’t tell me this is about resources when you have money for mint-scented trash bags,” he said, referring to the city’s investment in the rat-repellent bags.
Though earlier this year the state began offering eight weeks of paid family leave, this doesn’t apply to municipal employees. Female Teachers currently receive one sick day per month and may use the days in their sick bank after the ninth month of pregnancy, according to the UFT. Adoptive parents and fathers are excluded from using paid sick days following the birth of a baby, and women are limited to using six weeks of sick days, assuming they have that many saved up.
Melody Anastasiou, a Teacher at P.S. 68 in Staten Island, has a four-month-old daughter with a milk intolerance, which meant she needed more time with her.
An Unfair Choice
“I hoarded every single sick day I could,” the Special Education Teacher said. “I worked until the day before my C-section. It wasn’t enough. No one should have to choose between their child and their paycheck.”
“And then we wonder why the DOE testifies saying ‘we’re losing quality educators,’” Mr. Treyger said.
The Council held a hearing on the matter April 30.
The UFT is seeking a better deal than the one that was imposed on city managers, who lack collective-bargaining rights. The managerial employees were given six weeks of parental leave at full pay in exchange for giving up a 0.47-percent raise. Those with at least 15 years’ service also gave up two annual vacation days, despite the fact that the average age of the managerial staff was 55.
Found City Profited
The city’s Independent Budget Office estimated that the low number of managers who used parental leave gave the city a net savings of $5.8 million, which was contested by Labor Commissioner Robert W. Linn, who said the estimate came too early to be a valid measure.
“We will not allow them to do what they did to the managers of the City of New York,” Mr. Mulgrew said. “The Office of Labor Relations has made a determination that because we’re a predominantly female union they can pressure us in order to make money.”
Seventy-six percent of city Teachers are female; half are under 40. The UFT estimates that about there are about 3,700 pregnancies and adoptions among education staff each year.
The de Blasio administration has estimated that the right would cost taxpayers $1 billion over four years, which Mr. Mulgrew called a “scare figure.”
“If we took the managers’ package, the city would be making $80 million a year off of our families,” he said. He added that he hoped the union could pave the way for a parental-leave plan that would benefit other city workers.
A spokeswoman for the Mayor said that the administration hoped to come to an agreement on the matter soon.
Jillian Rivera, a Special-Education Teacher in The Bronx, spoke of her experience after her son was born 25 weeks into her pregnancy in 2012.
“I made the heart-wrenching decision to go back to the classroom three weeks after giving birth so I could be there after he came home,” she said. “I showed up to work, but deep down it was very painful. It’s not something any Teacher should have to decide.”
Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo, who gave birth eight months ago after a difficult pregnancy that included gestational diabetes, said that asking for three months of paid leave “is setting the bar too low.”
“We have to have provisions, because not every woman has an easy pregnancy,” she said.