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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

November 20, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Open Letter: Unions will fight for Paid Family Leave Program

Major unexpected events in our lives — both good and bad — can take a lot of time to work through. Whether it is the birth of a child or the unexpected illness of a family member, we all at some point experience the need to devote all the time and strength we have to be there for our families. So we were delighted, at first, to learn about the new Paid Family Leave (PFL) benefits going into effect next year in New York state. This is one of those rare provisions that benefit part-time workers, so we were especially excited to let our part-time faculty colleagues at IC know about the new law.

Did you know that the U.S. is one of only three countries in the world that has no guaranteed paid family leave? In Europe and Canada, legally mandated paid family leave is taken for granted, but here in the U.S., workers have so far been left to fend for themselves when it comes to balancing the needs of family and employer. Studies show the consequences of our lack of legally mandated paid family leave are especially devastating to women, and particularly to women working low-income jobs.

To correct this injustice, the New York State Paid Family Leave Program was passed by the New York state legislature and signed by Governor Cuomo in 2016. Designed to cover “virtually all private sector workers” working in New York state, this law will be the most inclusive and comprehensive PFL law in the U.S. (only four other states have implemented a paid family leave policy: CA, NJ, and RI). Starting on Jan. 1, most private-sector employees across New York state will be entitled to two months of paid family leave.

This enlightened and humane policy will allow workers to bond with a new child, care for a sick family member, or be there for their family when a spouse is deployed for military service – without having to navigate between the Scylla and Charybdis of potential employer retaliation and financial insolvency. Even better: This law particularly protects women, who often do the work of caregiving in their families and end up sacrificing their careers to do it.

Just as we were getting our hopes up about these new benefits, though, we learned of a clause in the regulations that exempts educational workers from the coverage mandate. Our employer, Ithaca College, would no longer be required by the state to offer this very modest benefit that could do so much to support the work of all faculty at IC. However, here’s the good news: Any employer can voluntarily opt in to Paid Family Leave. And opting in would be of minimal cost to IC.

Paid Family Leave will be funded 100 percent by affordable employee contributions; the cost to employers is very low. You’re probably asking yourself, “Great, it’s employee contributions, but what is it going to cost me?” Employee contributions were designed to be affordable: The maximum employee contribution in 2018 will be $1.65/week; part-time faculty at IC would pay only a fraction of a dollar per week.

“What about those benefits?” you might also be asking yourself. Well, employees will be able to take up to eight weeks of leave at 50 percent your average weekly wage in 2018, with the number of weeks and percentage of pay gradually increasing over the next few years. Workers can take advantage of these benefits under three types of circumstances (all are LGBTQ family accessible): after the birth or placement of a new child with your family; to care for a seriously ill family member; and when your spouse/parent/child is called to active military duty.

Paid family leave is widely recognized as a vitally important gender equity issue and is essential to a robust diversity and inclusion strategy at any institution. We were gratified to learn recently that Ithaca College has not yet decided to use the loophole in the law to avoid offering paid family leave to all of its employees. We have faith that this institution can live up to the standards set forth by its mission statement and its commitment to diversity and inclusion. We are currently working with Ithaca College administrators and other educational institutions in the hopes they will opt in their faculty to this
important program.

We are asking everyone at IC to talk with your colleagues, your teachers, and your administrators about this important issue. We should all have a voice in this decision that affects Ithaca College workers and their families. Positive change is coming for many, and we need to work to ensure it arrives for all. Reach out to our administrators and share your story about what having access to paid family leave would mean for you. Ask them to opt in to Paid
Family Leave for all IC workers.

Signed,

The Leadership Committee of the Ithaca College Contingent Faculty Union:

Mark Baustian, Lecturer

Jonathan M. Bullinger, Lecturer

John Burger, Lecturer

Brody Burroughs, Lecturer

Rachel Fomalhaut (formerly Kaufman), Lecturer

Megan Graham, Assistant Professor

Sarah Grunberg, Lecturer

Meisha Lohmann, Lecturer

James Miranda, Lecturer

Tom Schneller, Lecturer

Dyani Taff, Lecturer