Paid Parental Leave/ Labor and Social Contracts

Dec 4, 2017 by

It costs them nothing to call it a “business decision”, so that’s what they do. Nothing personal, they’re just bound by budget restraints, they’ll say. But denial of paid parental leave to New York City public school teachers amounts to an anti-family policy with overtones of gender bias.

It’s ironic that a progressive city should boast such a Neanderthal attitude.

As things stand, teachers can take six-weeks worth of days from their “sick bank” ( called Cumulative Absence Reserve), but most teachers haven’t accumulated enough days because their meager annual allowance ( they don’t get unlimited sick days as police officers do) is quickly exhausted by ordinary illnesses that come with the job.

Research has found that educators who work with children are more prone to flu and infections than are any other category of workers, including hospital staff. Teachers applying for parental leave tend to be of relatively junior age and are therefore even less likely to have enough days available to them to draw upon from their C.A.R.

If they are “bankrupt” of sick days and are forced by circumstances to take time off, they are thrown into economic hardship and sometimes their careers are imperiled, because supervisors may give the teacher an unsatisfactory job performance review based on poor attendance, no matter how valid the reason for absence. This sounds like an exaggeration but it is not. And such catastrophic consequences are almost always upheld.

Having to pick between staying with your newborn in the neonatal intensive care unit or keeping your job is a draconian choice.

The DeBlasio administration has for two years balked at the proposal of paid parental leave for teachers, unless they agree to surrender other earned necessary benefits. The City’s non-unionized managers have paid parental leave, but it was more imposed than granted, as it was in exchange for involuntary give-backs from which the City made a big profit.

Deals that are not won through collective bargaining but are bypassed by administrative fiat are untidy and unfavorable arrangements.
In New York, teachers are lucky to have their union on the battlefield to protect them from such arbitrary shenanigans. One teacher’s petition for paid parental leave got over 80,000 signatures in around ten blinks of an eye.

For a city administration that prides itself on enlightened social policy, on many issues with good reason, their position on paid parental leave is illiberal. Its exclusion of legal recognition to biological fathers, adoptive and foster parents and same-sex couples is harshly mystifying.

Paid parental leave should be as much a “fact of life” as childbirth itself, as it is in most advanced or otherwise humanistic nations of the world. Even the most “generous” laws in the United States would be laughed to scorn by Italians, for instance.

Through channels, within the system and by negotiations, even those of us who are not teachers must insist on this fundamental right. The City’s resistance to it is no doubt based more on a misapprehending pragmatism than antagonism, but injustice that does not sting and stink of venal intent still does not alchemize into equity.

Paid parental leave should not only become part of labor contracts, but also, like social security and Medicare, be ensconced in the storied American “social contract” that we all profess to honor!

Ron Isaac

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