Being a parent isn’t easy.

Melissa Jerome said she has learned that from her two kids. The UF Project Coordinator for the U.S. Caribbean & Ethnic Florida Digital Newspaper Project said that amid the difficulties that come with raising a child, it is important to have support along the way.

Jerome has worked as a full-time staff member at UF since 2013. When she gave birth to both of her children, she said she lacked support, and expanding her family was made to feel like a burden on her employer. She had to pay the university back for the time she took off for maternity leave, using the sick and vacation days she accumulated over time.

But on June 25, the UF faculty union secured an agreement that will grant faculty and staff the financial protection that Jerome lacked. When staying home with a sick family member or bonding with a newborn child, faculty and staff will now have eight weeks of paid parental leave, and eight weeks of paid medical leave.

The United Faculty of Florida’s bargaining team negotiated with the UF Board of Trustees for 15 months to develop the plan, said Hélѐne Huet, the union’s co-chief negotiator. It will go into effect in January. The benefits do not extend to temporary employment staff (OPS) and graduate students, she added.

“This is really going to change people's lives,” the UF European studies librarian said.

Currently, faculty and staff receive six weeks of parental leave, but it is not paid, Huet said. Instead, it is borrowed, meaning employees must forfeit vacation and sick days to pay the university back within six years of their parental leave, she said.

The bargaining team originally proposed 19.5 weeks of paid parental leave, Huet said, but the union negotiated and settled on eight weeks of paid parental leave and an additional eight weeks of borrowed leave for union members who are within their first year of employment.

This will provide newer faculty and staff, who are typically younger and more likely to have newborn children, the chance to have more time off work to care for children or sick relatives, Huet said.

UFF-UF advocates for wages, hours and terms of employment for about 2,000 members, Huet said, but the new benefit will apply to all UF employees. Huet and UF psychology professor Lisa Scott have led the union's efforts in negotiating Article 21 of the union’s collective bargaining agreement, a document revised every three years, with the UF Board of Trustees since March 2019.

Article 21 covers parental leave policies, which allow men and women to take time off work to care for newborns or recently adopted children, and medical and family leave, which gives faculty and staff time off when they or a family member gets sick.

While Jerome said she does not plan to have another child soon, she said the new policy will give other faculty and staff some peace of mind as they become new parents.

“I know that this will definitely be of great use to people moving forward,” Jerome said. “Just because the idea that you have to deplete your own time for something like this, it’s just not okay. Thinking as a parent, and having experienced what the UF current policy is, I'm just super excited.”

Bill Connellan, the Board of Trustees’ chief bargainer, said the article took more than a year to pass because it will be expensive to implement. The expense depends on how many employees take advantage of the new policy, but Connellan said he does not know how much the overall cost will be.

Parts of the agreement focused on how the university will handle financial impacts from these changes, which are typically covered last in the collective bargaining agreement, and figuring this out caused delays, he said.

While both bargaining teams have agreed on the article, the trustees must now ratify the agreement to implement the new policy in January, the earliest time the university could begin to implement it, he said.

Once they complete reviewing one other major article in the collective bargaining agreement, Connellan and his team will present the document to UF President Kent Fuchs and UF Provost Joe Glover for final approval, he said. The Board of Trustees will then meet to vote it for it to go into effect, he said.

The date the document will be approved has not been determined, he added.

“This is a major win for everyone on campus, faculty and staff,” Connellan said.

Huet said the bargaining team will keep fighting to expand the paid parental and medical leave policies, as they aim to negotiate 16 weeks for all employees. But the decision was a good first step toward attaining better employment standards for university faculty and staff, she said. But they’re not finished, according to Huet. Their next goal: pushing forward to provide more affordable childcare for employees.

Contact Nicole at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @_nrodriguez99.

Staff Writer

Nicole Rodriguez is a third-year journalism student at UF. She is currently the University Administration reporter for The Alligator and covers updates and announcements dealing with the UF administration.