Mayor Lori Lightfoot
Cheers, jeers for new City policy
City workers to get 12 weeks of paid time off
By Tim Hadac
Conventional wisdom might say that in a part of Chicago heavy with City workers, praise would be unanimous for last week’s announcement of an expansion of the City’s paid parental leave policy.
But judging by reactions seen recently, conventional wisdom may be mistaken.
“What took [Mayor Lori Lightfoot] so long?” asked Brighton Park resident Adriana Franco. “Didn’t she campaign on this issue in early 2019? That’s one of the reasons I voted for her. She could have gotten this done within 60 days of taking office. It might have helped my family. We had a baby that October.”
The expansion represents an agreement between city government and the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The City’s paid parental leave policy effective Jan. 1, 2023.
Under the new policy, all City employees will receive up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave, regardless of whether they are the birthing or non-birthing parent. With this expansion that will apply to approximately 32,000 employees, the City becomes the one of the largest cities in the Midwest and across the country to have such a policy.
The policy applies to those growing their family by birth, adoption, or foster care, as well as for those acting as a surrogate.
Employees will receive 100% of their pay for up to the entirety of the 12 weeks. To be eligible for the benefit, City employees must be eligible for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), meaning they must work for the City for at least 12 months before taking leave and worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12-month period immediately preceding the leave.
The City’s prior policy had not been revised since 2011 and provided up to four or six weeks of paid leave for birth parents, depending on the type of birth and two weeks for non-birth parents.
“I think it’s great,” said one Clearing resident, a City worker, who asked that her name be withheld. “You think I’d say no to nearly three months off with pay? Not a chance.”
“The mayor had three years to get this done, but she didn’t,” said Ashburn resident Keith Panko. “Now in her fourth year, with an election coming up in just a few months, she cuts a deal with a union whose support she needs to win re-election. I’ve been a voter for 50 years now, and I know a political payoff when I see it.”
Wrightwood resident Jade Robinson-Bell applauded Lightfoot.
“This [expansion] is a great idea,” she said. “Chicago should be a progressive employer. It’s good for City workers, and hopefully it will set a good example and encourage the private sector to do the same.”
West Elsdon resident Cesar Rojas shared that hope, but was not optimistic.
“I’ve worked in the trades,” he said. “There, if you don’t work, you don’t eat. My wife works two part-time jobs as a cashier. No way her bosses are going to give her anything like what City workers get.”
Clearing resident Peter Fecske said he is “tired of living on a fixed income and seeing these City workers get this lavish pay and days off and whatnot. I’m not saying they don’t work hard, but they have a sweet deal; and the rest of us who aren’t fortunate enough to be City workers have to pay for it. You get tired of it, you know?”
Garfield Ridge resident Emilio Barajas-Madron said he thinks the mayor’s action is a good thing, “but only if I get that City job I applied for. I mean, come on, how long does it take for them to start hiring? I thought they got these billions of pandemic funds from the federal government. Where did that go?”
Designed to fight racism
The mayor said the expansion aligns with her public health goals of closing racial disparities in maternal and infant health outcomes and addressing gender and racial inequity in access to good quality jobs. Additionally, the policy change aligns with the recommendations of a report released in June on the impacts of COVID-19 on working women in Chicago.
According to Family Values at Work — a movement network of grassroots organizers and coalitions in more than two dozen states working toward economic, racial and gender justice — women who take paid leave after a child’s birth are more likely to be employed the following year and report increased wages than women who do not take leave.
First-time mothers who utilized paid leave were 26.3% less likely to quit their jobs and 18.2% more likely to work for the same employer after the birth of their first child. Additionally, paid leave policies create stronger parity in caregiving roles between the birthing parent and the non-birthing parent, the mayor said.
“By providing paid parental leave to all City employees, the City of Chicago is setting a progressive example that we hope more employers will follow,” said Cherita Ellens, President and CEO of Women Employed. “No working parent should have to choose between their paycheck and time to bond with their new child, and removing that barrier is an important step to advancing equity. It is why Women Employed supports paid family and medical leave for all of Illinois, so everyone can afford to care for themselves and their family members.”
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