For a city that, for years, had no maternity policy for its female employees, Chicago has certainly come a long way, baby.
In yet another pre-election sweetener, Mayor Lori Lightfoot announced Friday that the city is expanding its parental leave policy, effective Jan. 1, to allow all 32,000 city employees up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave whether they are the “birthing or non-birthing parent.”
Chicago’s parental leave policy now offers four to six weeks of paid leave for birth parents, depending on the type of birth, and two weeks for “nonbirth” parents. The policy has not been revised since 2011.
The mayor’s office claimed the expansion to 12 weeks of paid leave — for “those growing their family by birth, adoption or foster care, as well as those acting as a surrogate” — would make Chicago “one of the largest cities in the Midwest and across the country” to implement such a generous policy.
To qualify for full pay for 12 weeks of leave, city employees must work for the city for at least one year before the parental leave begins and have worked at least 1,250 hours during those 12 months. The federal Family Medical Leave Act has similar eligibility requirements.
The unprecedented expansion for all city employees evolved from contract talks between the city and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.
The union proposed to “significantly expand paid parental leave” to match the 10 weeks offered by the state during contract talks three years ago, and after reaching a tentative agreement with the union, Lightfoot expanded the policy to all city employees.
The new policy comes just in time for Edwina Mitchell, a food protection employee for the city’s Department of Public Health. She’s the mother of a 4-year-old and is due to give birth to her second child in January. Her husband is a Chicago police officer.
“It means everything. I already feel a little stress-free. Not worrying about saving up from these checks what I would have to to cover from what wouldn’t be paid when I do give birth in January,” Mitchell said.
“And it’s not gonna be so much of a burden to my husband. He’s a police officer. And you know how they’re always canceling their days off. He was told that he only gets three days prior to this coming out today.”
Mothers need 12 weeks to care for their children, but also themselves, Mitchell said.
“We always put ourselves on the back burner. And you never know what kind of birth you may have — whether it’s a vaginal [delivery] or a C-section. Maybe you tear and have to heal from stitches or have postpartum depression,” she said.
AFSCME spokesman Anders Lindall said with 12 weeks of paid leave for both parents, city employees can “put their families first.”
“At a time when employers are having difficulty both retaining and attracting good people, it’s an incentive toward city employment,” Lindall said.
Chicago Federation of Labor President Bob Reiter said the more generous parental leave policy for city employees “falls into the same category of important rights, including predictive scheduling for workers and earned sick leave.”
“We don’t live in a world anymore where the birth or adoption of a child is looked at as just being one person’s responsibility. We know that both parents’ involvement with their children at a very young age after birth is a critical time for them to form a connection. And it’s also one of the most trying times,” Reiter said.
Reiter said he has no idea how much the expanded benefit would cost Chicago taxpayers, nor does he know how the city plans to pay for it. He only knows it’s “the type of benefit that everybody should have.”
“This isn’t something that the city is doing that hasn’t also been done by employers in other places. The trend is to move in this direction,” Reiter said.
For years, City Hall had no maternity policy for female employees. Instead, pregnant women had to store up unused sick days, vacation days and unpaid familyleave.
In a news release, Lightfoot called it one of two “important lessons” learned during the pandemic.
“Families need help now more than ever, and unpaid care work is a detriment to our labor market,” the mayor was quoted as saying.
“Ensuring parents have time to bond with their new child, heal from birth and receive their wages will have long-lasting positive impacts on our employees and our city. I call on my colleagues in the private sector to join me in offering this critical benefit.”
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