The Ithaca College administration is currently considering modifying its family leave benefits for faculty in light of the enactment of the New York State Paid Family Leave (PFL) law, which will go into effect Jan. 1, 2018.
The PFL law is a piece of legislation that allows almost every full-time and part-time private employee in New York state to have access to paid family leave, according to the state government website. However, the New York State Workers’ Compensation Board published regulations which stipulate that the law does not apply to private educators. Therefore, employers, and the college specifically, are not required by the state to provide faculty with these benefits. The Ithaca College Contingent Faculty Union has also been requesting the college adopt the specific family leave policy laid out in the law.
Employees are eligible for paid family leave in three cases: when expecting, adopting or fostering a child; when caring for a close relative with a serious health condition; and when a spouse, child, domestic partner or parent of the employee is on active military duty or has been notified of an order to transition to active military duty. The funds for PFL are taken from the weekly salaries of employees through payroll deductions. The highest employee contribution will be 0.126% of an employee’s weekly wage, and it is capped at 0.126% of the New York State Average Weekly Wage. The average weekly wage is $1,305.92 as of 2017. The cap will depend on what the average wage is for that year.
Faculty have access to benefits from the Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows them to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period in cases of the birth or care of a newborn, the placement of a child for adoption or foster care, a serious health condition or the need to take care of a family member with a serious health condition, according to the college’s website.
In an email statement concerning family leave benefits sent to faculty and staff Nov. 8, Brian Dickens, vice president of Human Resources, said the college would be adjusting its faculty leave program but did not say if the college plans to implement the PFL standards.
“We are collaborating and working towards modifications in our faculty leave benefits that will ultimately offer our faculty support through family–friendly benefit offerings,” Dickens said. “We expect that we will have a formalized provision with input from faculty in place by January 2018.”
Megan Graham, vice chair of the union and assistant professor in the Department of Writing, said the PFL law is an opportunity for the college’s contingent faculty to have access to additional benefits.
Rachel Fomalhaut, chair of the union and lecturer in the Department of Writing, said PFL would benefit contingent faculty at the college, a majority of whom are women. During Fall 2016, 59.5 percent of part-time faculty were women. Fomalhaut said obtaining PFL benefits would help achieve gender equity and bolster diversity and inclusion on campus.
“Even though PFL benefits everybody, it disproportionately benefits women because dependency-care work tends to fall more to women, and we sacrifice our careers often in order to take care of it,” Fomalhaut said.
In response to Dickens’ email, Fomalhaut said that she had a number of concerns about the language in the statement and its implications. She said the college may be focusing on creating its own provision instead of adopting PFL.
“It seems like, in the statement, it might be being considered that the college would come up with an additional provision to its own, it doesn’t really have a family leave policy, but a provision of family leave that might be outside of the law,” Fomalhaut said.
Graham said the statement made her question why the college would create a new provision instead of opting employees into PFL.
“I’m curious as to what exactly they’re trying to do, if they’re trying to make it better as the law is written, offer more leave at higher pay, or if they’re simply trying to give less benefits than the law would allow for,” Graham said. “I’m wondering what it is that they think they can do better than the law that was drafted.”
Fomalhaut also said language in the statement suggested that employers were barred from covering educators under PFL. In reality, the college can opt into PFL instead of drafting an entirely new provision, she said.
Internationally, the United States is one of the only countries that does not offer federally mandated paid family leave. There are only three other states in the U.S. with any kind of paid family leave: California, Rhode Island and New Jersey, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
PFL would supplement already-existing, short-term disability insurance. Therefore, employers cannot provide PFL without also simultaneously providing short-term disability insurance, which is currently offered to non-faculty and non-administrative employees, according to the college’s website. According to the state government website for the legislation, this is because PFL coverage will be “included under the disability policy all employers must carry.”
Although the PFL law is funded entirely by deductions from the salaries of employees, short-term disability insurance is partially funded by the employers themselves and partially funded by these deductions, according to the guidelines for the law published by the board. The college will pick up the cost when the need for funds exceeds the funds collected through payroll deduction.
Graham said she hopes the college will still accept the union’s request because she believes the amount the college would pay for short-term disability benefits would be minimal.
“Neither of those programs are very costly,” Graham said.
Moustafa AbuELFadl, assistant professor in the Department of Finance and International Business, said he supports the establishment of PFL at the college. He said he does not have a problem with deductions in faculty pay to help fund faculty members who may need to take PFL.
Fomalhaut also said the union is working with the Tompkins County Workers’ Center to organize an information session for the greater Ithaca community to take place sometime before Jan. 1 so that they are aware of benefits available to them.
The union has not yet decided what their plans will be if the administration rejects their proposal to opt into PFL for the college’s employees, Fomalhaut said. She said she hopes President Shirley M. Collado’s new administration will stick to its promises about transparency and communication during the decision-making process and consult the faculty.
“We really have our eye on really hoping that this new administration under the leadership of this new president really comes through with its promises to be more transparent, to explain its decisions, to involve the community in its decisions, to let us have input and have a say,” Fomalhaut said.