AFGE has always been a champion of a family-friendly workplace. Whether it’s flexible work schedules, job-protecting family and medical leave, or COVID-19 emergency paid sick leave, AFGE has played a role in making the federal government a better place to work.
On Oct. 1, another benefit we had worked towards for years is taking effect: paid parental leave. The law provides 12 weeks of paid leave for federal workers who are new parents – both men and women – to care for a newborn or an adopted child. Finally, new parents don’t have to choose between their jobs and their families. This is the same benefit service members have received since 2016 under a separate military policy.
The United States is the only developed country with no federal law mandating any paid parental leave for new parents. In Germany, all new mothers receive 43 weeks of paid parental leave. New Swedish moms receive 35 weeks of paid leave. Norwegian mothers are entitled to 45 weeks of paid leave. The law is a watershed moment that sets the stage for achieving the ultimate goal of providing all American workers with paid family leave.
AFGE members are celebrating
“I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this,” said Annie Lee, an attorney at the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights in San Francisco. “It both makes me very grateful to have this but also very angry that this is not more commonplace.”
Lee, whose baby boy is due in December, plans to take a total of six months – three months of paid parental leave and then three months of annual and sick leave combined. Her partner is going to take six months as well. He works for a foundation that gives him five months of fully paid parental leave and an extra month partially paid leave. For Lee and her partner, that’s one year that they can bond with their newborn and not worry about losing a paycheck.
Without this new benefit, Lee said it would have been hard since taking leave without pay is not an option for people who live in an expensive area like San Francisco.
Lori Hess, a Social Security Administration employee in Albuquerque, New Mexico, is grateful for this new benefit since she has already used up all her annual and sick leave for a birth of her first child.
“I just feel like they’re treating us like a human by giving us this benefit to take care of our family,” said Hess, whose baby girl is due in November. “It makes me feel like they care. It makes me feel that they care about my work process. If I’m stressed out and trying to take care of the new baby and go to work and have all that other stress, it makes it difficult to do a good job at work.”
Indeed, studies show that providing this leave costs relatively little but results in increased employee morale and productivity, reducing employee turnover, and helping the government avoid costly and timely hiring and training processes for new employees.
“This gives the government a competitive advantage over other employers,” explained Lee, who has just won the AFGE Outstanding Community Activism Award. She discussed how she has institutional knowledge so her work should want to retain her. "Because I’m very good at what I do, you don’t want to lose me. And so this is one thing you can do to retain me especially because there are so many things at work that are not very good right now.”
For someone with pregnancy complications like Tanyell Jackson, paid parental leave is a godsend.
Jackson, a Department of Veterans Affairs medical supply technician in Montgomery, Ala., has been put on bed rest for four months and will continue to be until the birth of her baby boy in November. Because of that, she has used up all her leave, and without this paid parental leave benefit, it would have been very difficult for her to take care of the baby.
“Nobody can afford to take 12 weeks without pay,” said Jackson. “I think this benefit is good, especially for those who don’t have that kind of leave.”
Expanding paid parental leave
AFGE is working to expand paid parental leave to groups of federal workers who are currently ineligible because they are not Title 5 employees. This includes Federal Aviation Administration employees, certain Department of Veterans Affairs employees, District of Columbia Courts and Public Defender Services employees, certain employees of the Executive Office of the President and White House Office, non-screener personnel at the Transportation Security Administration, and Article I judges, including bankruptcy and magistrate judges.
We urge passage of the fiscal 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which has a provision that would include this technical correction. The House and the Senate have passed their versions of the bill. Conferees are meeting to iron out their differences to come up with the final version of the bill.