Letter to the editor: Equality for Trinity’s staff parental leave

The+Balreira+family%2C+photo+provided+by+Jeanna+Balreira

The Balreira family, photo provided by Jeanna Balreira

To the Editor:

I appreciated the opportunity to give some thoughts and feedback as a part of the article from last week’s issue, “New Parental Leave Policy for Trinity Faculty.” While I thank Trinitonian for addressing such an important issue on campus, I do feel that the central message of the article was lost: There is a conspicuous inequality at Trinity University when it comes to the stark differences between faculty and staff paid parental leave policies — namely, that the staff here don’t have one.

Certainly I enjoyed twelve weeks spent with my husband and my son (who, by the way, is the cutest and most adorable and most perfect baby in the world — it has been scientifically proven by real scientists). Who wouldn’t enjoy that? But that’s not the meat of the issue. Federal law mandates that, through Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), I am allowed 12 consecutive weeks of unpaid leave from my place of employment with a guarantee that I will still have a job upon return.

The Balreira family, photo provided by Jeanna Balreira

The keyword here? Unpaid. The United States does not require employers to pay their employees for time taken under FMLA. Employers choose whether or not to offer a paid benefit to new parents or to families taking in a dependent; currently, Trinity chooses to offer that benefit to its faculty but not to its staff. Instead, Trinity requires that to receive pay while on leave, a staff member must exhaust her or his entire allotment of vacation and sick leave hours. When they’re out, they’re out; the employee must spend the rest of her or his leave without receiving any sort of compensation.

Fairness and equality of faculty and staff aside, I am concerned by three major issues here: First, financial stability is an incredible concern when making a family addition. When faced with the decision of spending time at home with a newborn versus going back to work to continue receiving a paycheck, many parents choose the latter. Research shows longer leaves result in multiple health benefits for babies and parents, including longer time spent breastfeeding, an increase in the delivery of immunizations and a decrease in postpartum depression symptoms in mothers.

Second, returning to a job with no immediate options for additional leave can lead to parents not being able to take time off for postpartum doctor appointments, regular infant check up appointments or ‘mental health’ days — which, trust me, are absolutely necessary after eight straight nights of no sleep.

Third, how do we expect to compete for top-level staff talent when companies such as Netflix and Amazon offer a year or more of paid parental leave? What could be an enticing recruitment tool turns out to be a source of frustration for many staff recruits who are of age to begin families. By my calculations, new staff members have to work at Trinity for at least three years and two months and never take a single sick day in order to have enough leave saved up to take 12 weeks off using sick and vacation. Try selling this math to our next security analyst or donor relations officer — it will send her running!

Paid leave is a part of a large national conversation, and I applaud the Faculty Senate for seeing and responding to the need for a new leave policy for faculty. In no way am I suggesting that since staff don’t have paid leave, faculty shouldn’t either. Rather, it’s the other way around. Last spring — more than one year ago — the Trinity Staff Engagement Committee (TSEC) submitted a proposal for paid staff parental leave to President Anderson. The proposal cited 31 sources and outlined the policies of more than 30 comparable and aspirational educational institutions. TSEC conducted hours of qualitative and quantitative research to put together a well-rounded and logical policy proposal — but where is the university’s response? We’re back to inequality again, as the Faculty Senate was able to get their revised policy approved and implemented in less than a year.

Trinity claims to offer a “21st century liberal arts education.” We also claim “the individual” and “community” as two of our five core values. Unfortunately, the university cannot fulfill these claims until we treat all of our individuals and our community with the compassion, care and equality that the 21st century demands.