HEOCentric, October 2012
Debbie Bell, executive director of the PSC, worked with the PSC leadership to negotiate with CUNY for paid parental leave. She answered some questions for me about the benefit.
Is there anything that you would like to tell the HEOs about the negotiation of the benefit?
The paid parental leave benefit is now a permanent benefit for full-time CUNY employees with at least one year of service who are represented by the PSC, but it was achieved in stages. When the 2007-2010 collective bargaining agreement was negotiated in 2008, a sum of money–$1.5 million–was set aside to create the benefit. PSC and CUNY then negotiated the specific terms of the benefit: who is eligible, how it works–notification, application, etc.–and the length of the paid leave, in a letter of agreement signed in 2009. After 2 1/2 years of successful implementation of the benefit and with funds from the 2007-10 contract beginning to run out, PSC and CUNY negotiated a new agreement in December 2011 to make paid parental leave a permanent, regular part of the contractual benefit package for full-time employees after one year of service.
What made the PSC consider negotiating for PPL?
Early in the last decade, the number of new hires in full-time faculty and professional staff positions was expanding, so there were increasing numbers of members of child-bearing age. It did not seem right that members–mothers in particular–had to go off payroll when a new child was born or adopted, so the union developed a bargaining demand for paid leave for new parents.
Were HEOs always going to be included to receive the benefit?
From the beginning, PSC’s position has been that the benefit should apply to all full-timers in the bargaining unit, regardless of title. Between March 2009 and May 2011, more than one-third of employees using the paid parental leave benefit were professional staff (HEOs or CLTs).
What reaction do you hear from members about the benefit?
Very positive. Members have called and told us how much it means to have this time with their children. Members are often very emotional about how much the benefit has meant to them. Those first few months are a special time.
Were the negotiations difficult? Was CUNY against agreeing to the benefit?
Negotiations were difficult because CUNY and the union had to determine how much it would cost and how many employees would use it. Also, there were a lot of details about how to implement the benefit that had to be haggled through. From the beginning–when PSC first raised a demand for paid parental leave–CUNY was open to trying to develop a benefit, particularly for faculty who are not able to accrue annual leave like HEOs can. The PSC bargaining team was unwilling to agree to a different benefit for HEOs than for full-time faculty. We had to negotiate hard to make sure the benefit was available to HEOs, CLTs and full-time faculty. At one point members of the negotiating team brought their babies to the negotiations and sat them right on the table.
On a personal note when my children were born there was no Paid Parental Leave benefit. I had worked at CUNY for about 6 years before my first child was born. I had to use as much sick time as my doctor would document that I needed and then I had to use annual leave. I was just pleased that I had a job when I returned from the unpaid child care leave. When I mentioned to several HEOs that I was on child care leave for more than a year (for each child), most of it unpaid, they said that they were not given that option from Human Resources.
Article 16.8 of the contract continues to permit “special leaves for child care.” The difficulty, as you note, is that it is an unpaid leave. It’s important that we raise awareness about that right so that HEOs know they have the option to augment their paid parental leave time with unpaid leave.