According to data compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States is the only developed nation in the world without guaranteed paid maternity leave. Although the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, passed in 1993, requires 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave for certain family- or health-related reasons, Connecticut’s Family and Medical Leave Act requires up to 16 weeks of unpaid leave for eligible employees.
But that might soon change. On March 27, one month ago yesterday, Senate Bill 1 and House Bill 6212, two acts which would create a paid family and medical leave system in Connecticut, moved one committee vote closer to becoming a law. This was the third time in the past three years during the past three legislative sessions that Connecticut Democrats introduced a paid leave bill.
In 2015 and 2016, the bill failed. Will paid leave’s fate in 2017 be any different than its predecessors?
State Sen. Beth Bye, D-Burlington, and a member of the General Assembly since 2007, believes that a lack of media coverage may be to blame for inaction on the bill. “I am hearing very little about this bill from actual constituents. I’m hearing much more about things like tolls and medical marijuana. This would be probably 15th on the list of things I would hear about. The budget battle has taken over the news.” Bye reiterated that there is widespread support for the legislation in Connecticut, referencing a poll by Connecticut Working Families that found 75 percent of voters and 53 percent of Republican voters support the creation of a paid family and medical leave program.
In March 2016, the Connecticut legislature’s second attempt to implement paid family and medical leave coincided with the release of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate Review of Yale’s Parental Policies. Recommendations included, but were not limited to, the correction of ambiguity and dramatic interdepartmental variation concerning professional expectations during parental leave, clearer language around the difference between short-term disability due to pregnancy and parental or child-rearing leave, the standardization of teaching relief policies amongst nonladder and ladder faculty and the elimination of requirements about primary caregiving that inappropriately enforced family structures. According to a number of staff and faculty, the Connecticut government wasn’t the only institution that needed to review its family and medical leave policy.
In September 2016, Yale was selected by Working Mother Magazine as one of the “100 Best Companies” in the nation for working mothers for the seventh year in a row. Yale University does provide paid family and medical leave in some form for its full-time employees, and the administration touts its family and medical leave policies as some of the most progressive in the Ivy League. Yale’s generosity, however, does not live up to SB 1 and HB 6212’s standards; if these bills become law, Yale will be forced to change its parental leave policies. With the possibility of the bills’ passage, Yale must decide if it will proactively address its own policies or be forced to by the new laws.
SB 1 and HB 6212 are the same bill, introduced in both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly, and are eligible for first floor votes in both chambers. The bills seek to create a publicly administered wage replacement system for family and medical leave. The bills’ structure follow a model in a 2015 implementation study produced by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, a nonprofit based out of Washington, D.C., which recommends a benefit of 100 percent of average weekly earnings up to $1,000 a week for a maximum of 12 weeks. The program is funded by a 0.54 percent payroll deduction.
In early March, the bill was voted out of the Joint Committee on Labor and Public Employees along party lines. As of this week, HB 6212 is before the House Steering Committee. According to state Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, and chair of the Labor and Public Employees Committee, the bill will likely be referred to the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee before a full House vote due to concerns over the fiscal costs. Every Democratic legislator interviewed expressed confidence in House and Senate leadership’s support of the bill.
Two Democratic representatives, however, had doubts. They cited the governor’s almost exclusive focus on budget issues, as well as the composition of the Senate. Although there are currently an equal number of Democrats and Republicans in the Senate with Democratic Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman casting tiebreaker votes, a 2016 power-sharing agreement splits chairmanship and composition of legislative committees, giving Senate Republicans the power to slow down certain bills.
“I have the expectation that it will make it to the governor’s desk,” Porter said in an interview with the News. “In 2016, it was a short session, so we basically ran out of time and the bill didn’t get called at all. So here we are in 2017. It’s a long session. We have the support of leadership, even support and talk coming from the Republican leadership in the Senate, Sen. [Len] Fasano.” But support from Senate Republican leadership has not trickled down to other Republican members. Deputy Senate Republican Majority Leader Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, expressed concern about the size of impacted businesses in an interview with the News.
In several interviews with the News, lobbyists on both sides of the issue pointed to different cost estimates for the proposed program. In 2016, the state legislature’s nonpartisan budget office, the Office of Fiscal Analysis, estimated the program’s startup costs at $13.6 million, with annual operating costs up to $18.6 million. OFA’s analysis of the bill assumed that taxpayers would initially pay these costs with the state’s general fund. Supporters of the bill, however, emphasize the fact that the program is designed to be self-sustaining through the employee deductions — the initial start-up costs would soon be paid back after payroll deductions begin, according to the bill’s advocates.
Opposition to the bill focuses on cost for the state government and local businesses. Eric Gjede, counsel and lobbyist for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Connecticut’s largest business organization with thousands of small- and medium-sized business members, emphasized the consequences of the bill’s cost. “The word I’ve been using to describe this bill’s purpose is to confiscate, to confiscate a portion of employee pay each pay period,” he said.
“You’re talking about the need to hire 120 new state employees, which some people say is actually as high as 180 employees. Given our fiscal situation in this state and the fact that we have businesses leaving and going elsewhere, we need to focus on our current obligations,” he stated in an interview with the News.
On Feb. 15 of this year, Yale University Working Women’s Network, an employee resource group for staff, shared a Facebook post encouraging members to testify in support of SB 1 and HB 6212. In her written testimony before the Joint Committee on Labor and Public Employees, Kathryn Bell, WWN’s co-founder, wrote, “This issue critically impacts all residents of Connecticut, but at Yale in particular (though not different from anywhere else in the state), it would help to create parity in a system that is otherwise structurally unequal and therefore flawed. While the university does offer generous leave to some people, the generous leave is not extended to all employees.” The News reached out to Bell for further comment, but she is currently out of office on maternity leave until early September. The 2016–17 Executive Board of Yale Law Women also submitted testimony to the Joint Committee. Their testimony, however, did not reference the status of Yale’s paid family and medical leave system.
However, despite Bell’s testimony, WWN’s newest co-chairs declined to comment on the possible impact of SB 1 on Yale employees. After speaking with several women on the WWN’s panlist, the News obtained a parental leave survey sent out by WWN in early March. The survey states: “Through previous surveys and conversations with our members, the Working Women’s Network has identified concerns about parental leave, and we seek more data with the following goals in mind.” To “gather data about how the policies and procedures surrounding parental leave could be improved at Yale, in order make recommendations to the institution” was the survey’s second listed goal.
Parental leave takes a different form for staff, nonladder faculty and ladder faculty. After request for comment about the administration’s interaction with SB-1, Tom Conroy, director of the Office of Public Affairs and Communications at Yale University, provided a link to staff leave policies, but did not respond to inquiries about Yale’s awareness of, support for or opposition to the legislation.
In seven instances relayed by staff and faculty who requested to remain anonymous for fear of alienating a superior, the Yale administration has responded to inquiries about paid leave from nonladder faculty and staff with inaccurate information. In every case, an administrator later revisited and corrected miscommunication. In three of these cases, staff members learned that their benefits were significantly less than they initially assumed.
A postdoctoral associate in the College of Arts and Sciences and an administrative staff member at the Yale School of Medicine, both of whom requested anonymity, expressed frustration at the number of different contacts they had to reach out to before finding the proper forms. While the postdoctoral associate praised their supervisor for helping them navigate the process and learning along the way, they noted that equally others are also frustrated with the short length of the leave policy, especially staff.
For unionized workers, union contracts can outline additional paid family and medical leave standards. Local 33, 34 and 35 of UNITE HERE, however, did not respond to several attempts to reach their press contact, Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson ’12, via phone and email about the impact of the legislation on Yale’s unionized workers.
Pregnant service and maintenance, clerical and technical, and managerial and professional staff use short-term disability insurance as a substitute for paid parental leave. This option provides 100 percent salary coverage during weeks two through eight, then 60 percent salary coverage for the rest of the 26 weeks. In these cases, child-rearing leave, also referred to as parental leave, is unpaid. Staff can use paid time off or sick days to receive their salary while on this leave. Managerial and professional staff are eligible for two weeks of paid parental leave. This does not depend on physical pregnancy.
These staff members will be directly impacted if the bills reach Malloy’s desk this session, entitling all eligible staff to 12 weeks of paid leave. The legislation, however, won’t necessarily impact the length of paid leave Yale offers to its employees. Instead, the law would create an insurance system that would make up for the family and medical leave benefits that Yale does not cover.
The distinction between ladder and nonladder faculty, however, is where Yale’s case for being a generous distributor of benefits begins to fall apart. According to the November 2016 Faculty Handbook, “Leave is a privilege, not a right.” As outlined in the Faculty Handbook, nonladder faculty are eligible for eight weeks of teaching relief for child-rearing, while faculty members are eligible for a semester of teaching relief for child-rearing. Teaching relief only applies to teaching duties; other administrative duties are to be negotiated with one’s department chair. If both parents are ladder and nonladder faculty, then the two teaching reliefs must be divided in two. Additionally, a faculty member must be a “primary caregiver” with another parent employed at least halftime in order to be eligible for relief.
If SB-1 and SB-6212 become law, Yale will be forced to change several faculty leave policies. Yale will have to provide nonladder faculty with up to 12 weeks of some form of parental leave or teaching relief. This would also affect Yale’s policy for splitting teaching relief because this split can force both non-ladder and ladder faculty members to take under 12 weeks of parental leave. Because a semester lasts 13 weeks, Yale would also have to decide how to address situations where a nonladder faculty member decides to take full leave and teach a course for only one week of the semester.
In an interview with the News, Bill Rankin, history professor and FAS senator for nonladder faculty in the Humanities, said that continued, “Department chairs don’t know what the policy is. They’re often kind of making up the policy. They haven’t read it closely and I don’t blame them. They don’t see this as their job and that makes it too easy for them to kind of fill in the gaps both in the policy itself and their understanding of it with their sense of what it ought to be.”
According to a department chair with over 10 years of experience, a department chair’s role in setting up parental leave for faculty members varies greatly depending on a faculty member’s familiarity with options outlined in the faculty handbook and other University resources. Department chairs do, however, act as liaisons between a faculty member and the FAS dean’s office or Human Resources. They can advise faculty on their options and, if necessary, advocate on their behalf with the Yale administration. However, four department chairs said in interviews with the News that conversations about paid leave policies rarely or never occur within their department and that faculty does not bring any complaints about the system directly to them. Structural differences within certain areas of academia are a large part of this variation across departments.
The type and frequency of paid leave requests depends greatly on the type of staff employed by the department. Chairs of the American Studies, Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies and Computer Science programs said they had very little experience with the paid leave system for their faculty. Nine department chairs did not respond to requests for comment.
An anonymous history professor spoke with the News based on their own experiences and that of seven other colleagues: “Many people feel that [teaching relief for child-rearing] isn’t something they can ask their chair to do for them. Maybe they want to save this request for when they’re going up for tenure or when they’re negotiating a new position. I know there’s a precedent for asking my chair for those things whereas it’s not clear that going back and forth about parental leave will get us anywhere except get my chair frustrated with me.”
Without exception, professors with negative experiences who were not affiliated with FAS refused to go on the record for this article. These experiences included, but were not limited to, variable support for leave requests depending on supervisor’s personal views, choosing to not request leave due to feeling intimidated or concerned by the experiences of colleagues and frustrations with two-faculty partnerships.
Rankin commented on this sourcing issue directly: “I think the fact that so many people are uncomfortable speaking on the record is an indication that what we said in the report is right. This policy is framed negatively and puts people on the defensive and doesn’t create the atmosphere of inclusion that we want.” Twenty contacted staff and faculty expressed support for a paid family and medical leave system that allowed for up to 12 weeks paid leave, whether it was through Yale or a Connecticut system. Overwhelmingly, nonladder women faculty members stated that they would prefer the option of more than 12 weeks.
Shiri Goren, director of the Hebrew Program and an FAS senator, commenting on the policy of eight-week teaching relief for nonladder faculty, remarked, “Can you imagine your professor leaving on the second week of the semester and coming back on the 10th week? It’s unfathomable logistically. We don’t have substitute teachers here.”
There is not a uniform plan in place that enables departments to pay for the loss of administrative and teaching capacity due to the leave of nonladder faculty. According to an estimate from the FAS senate review, the cost of standardizing teaching relief for all full-time faculty would range from $180,000 to $560,000 per year in order to replace lecturers.
Lizzy Carroll, director of the Education Studies program, has taken two family leaves at Yale over the past four years. In order to accommodate her missing the first several weeks of the semester during her second pregnancy, the Education Studies Program paid out of a grant in order to rearrange the teaching schedules of a postdoc and two nonladder lecturers to cover Carroll’s duties. Others interviewed reported similar accounts of program faculty or staff with multiple positions at the university essentially having to “buy out” the teaching of a course with either the program or department’s own budget. In these cases, the men and women involved requested anonymity. This problem recently received increased scrutiny at the Yale School of Medicine, where the challenge lies in the lack of funds to cover work missed during paid leave, especially for clinicians within clinical departments.
According to Paula Kavathas, chair of the Women’s Faculty Forum and professor of Laboratory Medicine, of Immunobiology and of Molecular, Cellular, and Developmental Biology at the Yale School of Medicine, this leads to other faculty having to pick up hours without financial compensation and/or faculty members being expected to informally pay back hours they missed during leave. For that reason, many new parents do not take full leave in order to avoid inconveniencing their department. FAS nonladder faculty run into similar issues.
At the recommendation of a subcommittee within the Faculty Advisory Committee at the School of Medicine, the school has taken several steps towards compliance. Tracy Larmer was appointed as the point person for all faculty interested in taking leave. A supplementary disability fund to compensate individuals on leave in order to protect grant money to pay those taking up the original job requirements is in the works. FAS senate members interviewed for this article are aware of the progress at the medical school and acknowledges its utility.
Carroll reflected on a joke she has heard many times around the University. “I’ve heard people make jokes about well the answer is to only get pregnant in the kind of timing where you’re giving birth at the end of May, and then you kind of take the summer without inconveniencing anybody,” she said.
Despite the negative experiences of many faculty and staff members, Rankin expressed confidence in the administration’s openness to change on this issue. He told the News, “I’ve actually been heartened by the Provost’s Office’s response. When we sit down with them and go through all of these issues, I haven’t found people that really sit through this and think about it coming to different conclusions.”
Goren shared that hopefulness. She said, “Many people in the administration do understand that there’s a need for an overhaul. I think this is an opportunity for Yale to become a leader, to create a model for other academic institutions, other Ivy League institutions. People look up to Yale. If the administration identifies paid family and medical leave policies as one of the priorities, we can make it happen.”
Regardless of how Yale chooses to move forward with the standardization of teaching relief and other parental leave policies, Connecticut’s paid family and medical leave legislation is likely to return to the General Assembly next year if it does not pass. Will Yale be forced to lead from behind and change its policies for faculty accordingly, or will it live up to its reputation of generosity?
Contact Briana Burroughs at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Correction, April 28: An earlier version of this story ran with an illustration that had previously been published in the Yale Herald. It has since been removed. The News deeply regrets the error.