Rutgers faculty union works to negotiate more extensive family leave for employees
The American Association of University Professors-American Federation of Teachers (AAUP-AFT) is working to negotiate a revised contract with the University regarding family leave and disability resulting from pregnancy.
Dory Devlin, director of University News and Media Relations at Rutgers, said that the University follows state and federal law as it relates to maternity and family leave.
The Family and Medical Leave Act, which Rutgers abides by, provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave for qualifying employees, according to the United States Department of Labor.
BJ Walker, a senior staff representative for the AAUP-AFT, is a strong proponent of the act.
“(The Family and Medical Leave Act) is terrific to have because it preserves someone’s job … It offers a real layer of protection for employees, that they won’t get fired because of illness,” she said.
Even with the advantages of existing policies at Rutgers, the AAUP-AFT desires to improve benefits for its employees.
Currently, the organization provides six weeks of paid recuperative leave, followed by an additional eight weeks of paid leave for birth mothers belonging to it. Spouses and partners are also entitled to eight weeks of paid leave, Walker said.
Under the AAUP-AFT contract, an appointed liaison, who is an administrator in the School of Management and Labor Relations, is available to work with departments and individuals to determine the degree of need, she said.
“The goal is to provide that kind of flexibility, so that employees that need time get the time and work with the departments to find out how to provide the coverage that they need,” Walker said.
Moving forward, the AAUP-AFT hopes to improve its existing contract with Rutgers to provide its employees with additional assistance, she said.
Smaller departments at Rutgers struggle the most with providing resources for their employees, Walker said.
“They have fewer faculty members, it's more difficult to provide what’s called in our contract ‘closed ranks,’ which simply means that someone who is sick can have their colleagues fill in,” she said.
Walker said that, ultimately, smaller departments do not always have the resources to provide employees who are dealing with a pregnancy or illness with relief.
“The smaller departments are really getting squeezed,” she said. “They don’t have the faculty to cover and don’t have the resources in their allotted budgets to hire PTLs (part-time lecturers) who might come in to cover some courses for the remainder of the semester.”
This constraint places strains on faculty working for smaller departments. Employees may be more reluctant to ask for coverage if they know it will place a burden on the department, said Walker.
Although she was satisfied with her recent maternity leave, Lauren Feldman, associate professor in the School of Communication and Information, agrees that policies could improve for everyone.
Feldman found that although her department was very accommodating of her needs, it may not be the same for every employee at Rutgers.
“I think an improved policy would guarantee parents at least a full semester of paid leave from teaching or service during the first year after birth or adoption, regardless of the timing of the birth or adoption, so that faculty would not be as dependent on the whims of their department,” she said in an email.
The AAUP-AFT is looking to amend this situation with identified resources for departments, Walker said. The goal is to take the financial and logistical pressure off of smaller, struggling departments.
Additionally, the AAUP-AFT hopes to improve its contract with the University by further clarifying the language being used so that faculty members looking into the contract can easily distinguish what benefits they are entitled to, she said.
“There’s still so much information. It’s really hard for someone who’s dealing with a personal thing to try to weave through all of the information to find out, well, ‘which one applies to me,’” Walker said.
In the wake of negotiation, the AAUP-AFT ultimately hopes to assist employees who need time off.
“It’s important for employers to pay attention to what people need to do to take care of themselves and their family members,” she said.
Mary Ellen Dowd is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in journalism and media studies. She is a contributing writer for The Daily Targum.