There Ought to Be a Law

One of the hardest parts of my job as a union leader has been explaining to new moms that they get six weeks to adjust to life as a parent and then they have to go back to work or go on an unpaid leave.

They ask me- what about disability pay? I tell them we don’t get that. They ask about maternity leave. I tell them that their six weeks leave and then unpaid leave is our maternity leave.

Frequently, they cry. Or they are very angry. They don’t know how they are going to survive this exhausting transition after only six weeks. They can’t find childcare for an infant so young. They have sick leave- why aren’t they allowed to use it? How are they going to take care of their babies? Themselves? I cannot help them with the answers to these questions.

And if I am talking to a new father or adoptive or foster parents, the news is all bad. They don’t get six weeks because they didn’t give birth. They can take twelve weeks of parental leave with job protections in place, but their employer can forbid them from using their sick leave as compensation- and many do.

I couldn’t continue to explain to my members that their children don’t matter, that our maternity and paternity leave policies are some of the worst in the developed world. So, I decided to try to make a change.

Thanks to the commitment, compassion, and common sense of Assemblymember Nora Campos, the state legislature has taken up AB 375. This law ensures that new parents cannot be prevented from using their sick leave when taking family leave guaranteed to them by the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).

That’s it. Currently, if a teacher gives birth, she gets six weeks, guaranteed. If she doesn’t have enough sick leave for the six weeks, she gets differential pay- the daily rate of pay minus the cost of the substitute. If AB 375 passes, that right- the right to not go bankrupt, to not choose between her child and her rent, and the right to heal and adjust to life as a new parent using her own sick leave- will be extended to the twelve additional weeks already guaranteed to her under CFRA.

And since CFRA covers all parents, we will stop discriminating against fathers who need to take family leave to care for their new children. We will stop discriminating against adoptive parents, including LGBT parents, implying that their path to parenthood isn’t as valued or as important as birth parents.

If AB 375 passes, we will have one more tool to retain our valued educators. We will stop treating them and their children as disposable cogs whose only value to our system is their immediate presence on a school campus, no matter how much research there is to support the premise that thoughtful family leave improves employee retention, performance, and morale.

AB 375 is likely to go the Senate floor tomorrow, Thursday, September 3rd. I pray for a resounding “aye” to the notion that educators may use their own sick leave when taking family leave guaranteed to them by the state of California. It’s not enough, but it’s a start. I could not express enough gratitude to Assemblymember Campos and her staff. I cannot express enough gratitude to Senator Connie Leyva, who will manage this bill on the floor of the Senate. I cannot express my gratitude enough to my colleagues at CTA for their support.

This has been an amazing experience. The staffs in the Assembly and the Senate have been helpful, engaged, and thoughtful. Tomorrow is a big day, so I’d better get some rest. I hope to see you all on the right side of tomorrow so that I can go home to my own family knowing that we have all done the right thing by our educators.