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Parental Leave On and Off the Tenure Track

By Amy Todd, Anthropology


On January 7th, Mark Schafer and Marjorie Salvodon brought three-year-old Marie-Carmel home from Haiti.  Mark, a lecturer in Latin American and Iberian Studies, has taken the Spring semester off from teaching so that he and Marjorie, a tenured professor at Suffolk, can focus on parenting. “When I think of my situation, I feel such gratitude toward the Union,” Mark says. “There is no substitute for having this time to work on building the relationship; this is the beginning of becoming a family.”

Parental leave is one of the most complicated and least equitable of faculty benefits. Understanding it requires delving into the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) as well as our collective bargaining agreement. FMLA allows eligible employees up to 12 weeks unpaid leave per year to introduce a new family member through birth, adoption or foster care.  It also covers serious medical conditions.

Article 27 of the collective bargaining agreement allows full-time tenured and tenure-track faculty members to receive one-semester paid parental leave (librarians are eligible for twenty-four weeks). If their accrued sick time does not cover the entire period, they may draw on the Sick Leave Bank to make up the shortfall.

Under the 2009-2012 Agreement, to be eligible for paid parental leave, non-tenure track faculty (NTT) had to be full-time for 6 years, a long time to wait to introduce a new family member, whether through pregnancy or adoption. The good news is that recently, UMass/Amherst’s NTT bargaining team was able to reduce the waiting period from 6 to 3 years.  This change, which applies to both campuses, did not require any concessions on the part of labor.  As MTA attorney Michelle Gallagher notes, “some issue are equity issues and we need not trade away existing benefits for those.”

Benefited lecturers who are less than full time, however, remain ineligible for parental leave. Lecturers like Mark Schafer must instead apply for FMLA. They may be paid out of their personal sick time, but if this is exhausted, they can’t draw on the Sick Leave Bank to make up the shortfall even though they may have been contributing to the Bank for many years. Mark had accrued enough sick time to be paid for about 12 weeks. 

Natalia Scarpetti (Lecturer, English), however, only received about 4 paychecks before her sick leave was exhausted. Natalia had Steven on December 20, 2011 and did not want to return to teaching in January.

Natalia and her spouse, Chris Scarpetti, who was working as a Maintenance Supervisor at a manufacturing plant, had saved money to allow them to live on one income until her return to work, but “we had to rely on our savings more than we anticipated, to cut corners and really think about everything we spent.”

Adoption comes with its own challenges, including a process called “attachment.” Marjorie Salvodon met Marie-Carmel just after the 2010 earthquake when Marjorie was volunteering as an interpreter and rubble remover with All Hands, a disaster relief organization. The extensive adoption process meant it was two and a half years before they were able to bring Marie-Carmel home. Parental leave has allowed their family to establish a daily routine. “There’s also been a lot of learning going on,” Mark says. Marie-Carmel is learning shapes, colors, counting, sorting.  These things are basic to academic life. Most U.S. children learn them at a much younger age.”

Chris Fung (Lecturer, Anthropology) was ineligible for paid parental leave.  To preserve his sick leave time, he opted not to take FMLA.  He could continue working because his spouse, Ping-Ann Addo, as tenured faculty in Anthropology, received a semester of paid parental leave.  They also had a lot of help from Ping-Ann’s mother. Without family support, “if both parents were NTT, or if one were NTT and the other had a job that didn’t provide paid parental leave, it would have been really, really hard.”  This is exactly the situation facing lecturers like Natalia Scarpetti.

It can be difficult to relate to the challenges of introducing a new family member, to appreciate the value of parental leave or to recognize that parental leave is an “equity issue.”  Reducing the eligibility period for full-time lecturers from 6 to 3 years is a major victory.  The current parental leave policy, however, still leaves part-time lecturers, and full time lectures with less than 3 years service, with limited benefits. The situation for lecturers at UMass/Boston is far better than at other campuses, but there is still work to be done.  

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