Monday, August 31, 2015

Workers Punished for Having Children

by Maughn Gregory, AFT Local 1904 Faculty Coordinator


Out of the following 38 countries, where you think the US ranks in terms of providing paid or protected leave to new parents?

Australia, Austria, Belgium, Britain, Bulgaria, Canada, Czeck Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovania, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United States.

According to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the US comes in dead last, with only 12 weeks of federally-protected time off to care for, and bond with a new child, and zero weeks of paid leave.  Zero.  In fact, the US is the only country in that list – and the only high-income country in the world – that does not provide any paid leave for new parents.  The median amount of time off with full pay for new mothers in the other countries on the list is between five and six months. (Click here to read the Pew Research Center article summarizing this study.)    

Protected leave only means that you can’t lose your job for taking time off to care for a new child, and workers in the US have only been guaranteed 12 weeks of protected leave since 1993 when the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was enacted. Plus, in order to qualify, you have to have been employed for at least a year, by an organization with 50 or more employees. 

That covers most employees of Montclair State University, and the good news is that both parents may take the 12 weeks of leave. The bad news is: in most cases those are weeks without pay.  In the first place, FMLA only provides job protection, not payment, while you are on parental leave. In the second place, even if you have accumulated plenty of sick leave, the University will not allow you to use that for parental leave, unless your child or spouse is actually sick.  

The University’s policy states: "Sick leave may be utilized by employees when they are unable to report to work due to personal illness, accident, exposure to contagious disease, or medical appointments when such appointments cannot be scheduled after working hours. Sick leave may also be used to attend to members of the immediate family who are ill and/or in instances of death in the employee's immediate family."

Of course, to get paid because you’re too sick to work requires quite a bit of paperwork, including documentation from your doctor. This means that a pregnant woman who works at MSU can only use sick leave to get paid while taking time off if her doctor states that she is unable to work due to a medical reason; and a man who works here cannot use sick leave to care for, or bond with a new child unless the child or his spouse is ill enough to have a note from the doctor. 

So, unless you use vacation time (something faculty members do not accumulate), you will not be drawing a paycheck from the University if you take time off under FMLA to be a new mother or father.  One bit of good news is that as employees of the State of New Jersey, we have access to Family Leave Insurance (FLI), which pays up to 60% of your salary, for up to six weeks, while you take time off to bond with a new child.  This is not a government subsidy: it is fully funded by employee contributions.

Perhaps some day the University, the State of New Jersey, or the entire United States will value parenting and the family as much as some of the countries at the bottom of OECD’s list.  That’s part of what the labor movement is about.  Another part is helping each other stay informed of our rights and making sure the University honors them.  More information on the University’s FMLA policies can be found:
  • On the Human Resources website [click here]
  • On the Union’s FAQ webpage [click here]
  • At the Union’s FMLA workshop, coming later this fall.

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Call to Action for Young Workers

From left to right: Jennifer Higgins and Carli Meneses
IBEW Local 94 in Mercer County became a classroom on Friday, July 31, 2015, for young workers taking part in Common Sense Economics led by Jennifer Higgins of AFT Local 1904 and Carli Meneses, president of IAM Local 2339N. The workshop focused on how workers can harness their collective power to improve their economic circumstances. First, labor must be united. Second, all members of the labor movement – especially our future leaders – must be engaged in the political process and be invested in electing leaders who believe in advancing progressive policies that help working families get and stay ahead [read the entire article here]