FRED KOWAL: ‘Very exciting to be first on leave.’

GOVERNOR CUOMO: ‘A significant step forward.’

KRISTINA M. JOHNSON: Pleaded by ‘progress.’

The United University Professions became the first public-sector union to negotiate a state paid-family-leave plan as part of a contract agreement reached May 24.

The pact, which expires July 1, 2022, includes six two-percent annual salary increases and minimum starting salaries for adjuncts. Employees will be able to use paid leave beginning next year. Negotiations took almost two years, and one of the most important issues to the union’s 42,000 State University of New York faculty members was reaching a deal on paid leave.

‘Something We Fought For’

“This was something we’ve fought for for quite some time,” said UUP President Fred Kowal in a phone interview. “It’s very exciting to be the first public-sector statewide union to get paid leave.”

The state plan, which was enacted earlier this year, allows employees to take up to eight weeks of paid leave to take care of a newborn or sick relative, or to assist family members who are deployed for military service. During those eight weeks, employees are paid half of their average weekly salary, though the benefit is capped at $652.96, half of the state’s average weekly wage. UUP members will receive 10 weeks of paid leave at 55-percent of their average weekly salary when the plan's next increase takes place in 2019. The benefit will increase to 67 percent of an employee’s average weekly salary for 12 weeks by 2021.

The state’s plan is offered to employees who work more than 20 hours a week for 26 consecutive weeks, or who work for less than 20 hours weekly for 175 non-consecutive days.

“This agreement is a significant step forward for all of New York's public universities and ensures the highest quality of education for the next generation of leader,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “I am grateful for the collaboration that helped make this agreement possible and look forward to UUP's growth and success for years to come.”

Can Mix and Match

Mr. Kowal said it was difficult to hammer out how the state plan would work with the union’s “unique employee situations,” particularly adjuncts, who have varying schedules. In order to receive the benefit, the number of days adjuncts spend on campus will be counted instead of the number of hours spent in the classroom. He also noted that a process was established to allow employees to use their paid leave before taking sick days so they could get maximum time off.

Another deal reached in the contract that will work in conjunction with paid leave is what Mr. Kowal called a “clock stop” policy for tenure candidates.

“This has been a longstanding problem, especially for women who took sick leave after a pregnancy, that the tenure clock continued to tick,” he said, noting that when faculty members return from leave they have to catch up on research and publications in order to be considered for tenure. “Now she can simply request that the clock be stopped.”

The union, whose membership is 53 percent female, did not have to make any concessions to obtain the benefit, according to Mr. Kowal. He praised Mr. Cuomo for the state’s willingness to work with the union on the issue.

‘A Firm Commitment

“The Governor had made a firm commitment that he wanted this for municipal employees,” he said. A ratification vote for the contract is expected to be held in August.

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said that she pleased to see “progress” in key areas, including family leave. “The academic professionals who are members of UUP are key to the success of SUNY, its students, and the state,” she said. “Their work educates the next generation, and supports economic development through research, innovation, and community partnerships that span the state.”

The state plan is fully funded through payroll deductions equal to .126 percent of employees’ weekly wage. The maximum annual contribution for this year is capped at $85.56.

Though no city employees have benefitted from the state plan yet, the de Blasio administration granted 20,000 city managers, who do not have collective bargaining rights, six weeks of family leave at full pay. The benefit was paid for by managers giving up a planned 0.47-percent raise. Employees with at least 15 years’ service also gave up two annual vacation days.

City Plan More Costly

The city’s budget would not be directly affected if unions representing city employees adopted the state’s plan, while a citywide expansion of the plan offered to managers would cost taxpayers an estimated $1 billion, a spokeswoman for the de Blasio administration noted.

The state has not made any estimates regarding how many public employees it expects to use the benefit.

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