April Hines, a UF journalism and mass communications librarian, took time off from work in 2019 to take care of her newborn son.
As a full-time employee at UF since 2005, Hines said she had accumulated a large amount of sick and vacation hours. Her sick and vacation days were used to essentially “cash-in” her time for parental leave.
Hines said she was lucky to have the comfort of built-up hours to take care of her newborn last year and in 2014, as well. But, she said many of her fellow faculty and staff who take parental leave throughout their time at UF often end up in debt to the university.
Currently, faculty get six weeks of parental leave, but it is borrowed, not paid, according to Hélѐne Huet, the co-chief negotiator of the United Faculty of Florida (UFF-UF), a union responsible for bargaining on behalf of UF faculty and staff. While union members get up to 12 weeks, all faculty and staff are expected to pay the university back within six years using the vacation and sick days they accumulate over time.
“When you're on parental leave, it's not an illness, it's definitely not a vacation,” Hines said. “Yet we've been forced to use that time that we've actually earned for simply deciding to add a child to the family.”
Every three years, the union works on a collective bargaining agreement with UF’s Board of Trustees, Huet said. The agreement covers wages, hours and other terms of employment for about 2,000 union members.
UFF-UF has been working on getting paid parental and medical leave, part of Article 21 of the agreement, for years. They are also working on proposing an increase in the number of weeks allocated for leave.
Parental leave allows men and women to take time off work to care for newborns or recently adopted children, while medical and family leave gives faculty and staff time off when they or a family member gets sick.
Huet said faculty members compile sick leave hours with every packcheck. Borrowed leave is difficult for 9-month faculty because they only gather a small amount of sick leave per pay period, she said.
The union initially made a proposal to the Board for 19.5 weeks of truly paid, not borrowed, parental leave, she said. The Board then presented a counterargument of eight weeks of true paid leave for all faculty and staff at UF.
“No one would have to pay that time back using vacation and sick time,” Huet said. “The BOT [Board of Trustees] proposal would therefore create a more uniform leave policy across the university.”
Huet, who is also a European studies librarian at UF, is originally from France. She joined the union in 2015 because she said she was surprised to see that paid leave in the U.S. is not a given right, as it is in France.
Although she does not have children, Huet said she supports the paid leave proposal because she has seen her colleagues struggle under the current policy.
“This is something that we do in addition to our job,” Huet said. “So it's a lot of volunteer work, it's a lot of hours put into it, but we also know that this is something that's pretty important for faculty members at UF.”
Lisa Scott, a UF professor in the department of psychology, also joined UFF-UF in 2015 and has been a part of the bargaining team for about a year and a half.
Scott said newer faculty members, who are typically younger and more likely to have newborn children, are also at a disadvantage under current parental and medical leave policies because they are unable to accumulate enough sick hours to pay back the university.
Another problem with paying back parental and medical leave with sick leave days, she said, is that when a faculty member actually gets sick, they can’t take time off work.
Scott said bargaining takes time, and the main obstacle they face in getting the paid leave policies passed is the additional costs of implementing them. She said the cost of new parental and medical leave policies may not be the Board’s priority, especially amid a pandemic and the uncertain financial future it has brought to universities.
“I know they want to make this change and support our faculty to the best of their abilities, but it's just been a cost issue,” Scott said.
Hines said she thinks now is the right time for the policy to finally be passed. As UF competes to become a top five public university, she said to achieve that status, they have to have the policies that will help recruit and retain faculty and staff.
“There have been departments that have been embarrassed by our parental leave policy or the lack of when recruiting new faculty and staff,” Hines said. “It's going to really improve work morale and it's really going to help parents be more secure and more satisfied in the work environment.”