Thanks to our union’s relentless push, paid parental leave for federal workers has become a reality beginning Oct. 1, 2020. AFGE sat down with our members and expectant mothers who shared with us what 12 weeks of paid leave would mean for their families when their little ones arrive. The interviews have been edited for length and clarity. 

Annie Lee

Lee is a member of AFGE Local 252 and an attorney at the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) in San Francisco, Calif. Her job is to enforce civil rights laws and protect students from discrimination on the basis of race, sex, disability, and age. She’s been with the OCR for four and a half years and has been an AFGE member since she first started. Her baby boy is due in December.  

What do you think about this benefit and how do you plan to use it?   

I’m definitely going to take all three months of paid parental leave and I’ll probably add on with annual and sick leave. Many people in our office have had children and they explained how before, you had to use your annual leave when you’re out on parental leave. Our office also has had a lot of twins which are more serious pregnancies with labor and delivery concerns coming from twins. I’ve just heard difficult stories from other people who had to take leave without pay or borrow against themselves for sick leave and then when they start working, they can never take sick leave again. It’s hard because now they have a child, and a child can get sick.   

It’s really very helpful to have three months paid benefit that’s not your annual or sick leave. That really helps. I’m very excited for that. Also childcare is very expensive, so it’s helpful to be able to have a lot of time and then stagger it with my partner so that I take the first chunk of leave. I think I’m going to take a total of six months – three months of paid parental leave and then three months of annual and sick combined. And then he’s going to take six months. That’s one year that we can bond with our baby and not worry about losing a paycheck.  

Does your partner’s office offer paid parental leave as well?   

Yes. He works at a foundation. He gets five months of paid parental leave and one month partial payment. We are very lucky. I’ve never heard of other people having the same type of leave that we’re about to take for our baby. It both makes me very grateful to have this but also very angry that this is not more commonplace.   

Without this benefit, would you have taken leave without pay?  

If you live in the Bay Area or a very expensive place, you cannot take leave without pay. Everything is so expensive. If we didn’t have this, what we would have to do is rely on other people. That could be paid care givers or our parents. It’s good that we have this moving forward. I wish everyone had it sooner, and I wish we all had more.   

I think there’s so much I don’t know because I’m not a mother yet, but just hearing people talking about their experiences, I am shocked how can we make people go back to work so soon. So many workers in America, so many women don’t have a choice. They have to go back, and that is so cruel. We’re not just labor. We’re human.  

Why is making the workplace more family friendly good for your agency?  

It’s good for the agency because it makes people want to stay. I appreciate it. This gives the government a competitive advantage over other employers. There’s also the issue of institutional knowledge. Because I’m very good at what I do, my office doesn’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, like very limited promotions. Our local also doesn’t have a collective bargaining agreement with the agency. But this is one thing that will help me stay. I know that I will have time to be with my child and then when I return, my job will still be there. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate that. But I also feel it should be for everybody. It really makes me appreciate this and want to stay.  

Is there anything else you’d like to add?  

It’s an interesting time to be a federal employee, and it’s also a time where I feel very grateful for my union for standing up for us, making sure that we can work without political interference, and trying to protect us as we try to do our work like the professionals we are. I really appreciate our local. I feel very involved with it. It reminds you of the power of organizing, the power of people speaking up together with one voice. I appreciate having a union especially now in these tough times. 

Lori Hess

 

Hess is a member of AFGE Local 3184 and a Lead Contact Service Representative at the Social Security Administration office in Albuquerque, New Mexico, since 2006. Her job is to help answer complex questions about social security benefits and related issues when people call SSA’s 800 number. Her baby girl is due in November.  

What do you think about this benefit and how do you plan to use it?  

The benefit is very helpful. I have one child already, and I used up all of my leave. I had to use advanced leave, so I could have more time to bond with my first baby. We were thinking about having another child, but it was a tough decision because I didn’t think I would be able to take enough time off to be with a new baby. When I learned that this benefit passed, I was grateful that I could plan to have a second child. I can at least take three months off. Without the benefit I would probably only be able to take about 6 to 8 weeks off and in my opinion, that is not enough. This benefit made my decision of having one more child easier. Now I will be able to spend more time with the baby and not have to worry about finances and being behind on bills.   

What would you have done without this paid parental leave?  

I make the majority of income in my household, so I cannot take too much leave without pay. Without paid parental leave, I would have to use advance leave and use most of my savings just so I could take at least eight weeks of leave to heal and bond with my baby girl. I don’t have much leave right now because I used advanced leave with my first daughter and it took a long time to pay it back.  I would most likely have to use credit cards to pay some bills and unexpected expenses. I am glad that it was passed, so I can just focus on my baby girl.  

Why is making the workplace more family friendly good for your agency?  

Making the workplace more family friendly is good for the agency because it makes me feel like they actually care about me and my work process. If I’m stressed out, trying to take care of my new baby and have all the other stresses of work, it makes it difficult to do my job well. How well I do my job directly affects my coworkers and the beneficiaries that need our assistance.   

Having time to heal and bond for the first three months of my baby’s life will help me get into the groove of balancing family and work. It will help me be a better worker. Since I won’t be using up all of my leave, if there are doctor’s appointments for the child, I know I can take two hours here and there and don’t have to worry about how I will pay my bills. I just feel like they will be treating us like humans by giving us this benefit to take care of our families.  

Tanyell Jackson

 

Jackson is a member of AFGE Local 503 and a medical supply technician at the VA hospital in Montgomery, Ala., since 2016. Her job is to clean surgical instruments to make sure that everything that is used during treatments and surgeries is sterile to prevent infections. Her baby boy is due in November.

How do you plan to use this new paid parental leave benefit?

I’m planning on taking all three months. I’ve used all the leave I’ve accumulated. I have been put on bed rest for 4 months because I have some complications with the baby. I’ll be on bed rest for the remainder of the next 7 weeks. After three months, my mom will help take care of the baby.

What do you think about this new benefit and why it is important for a new parent?

I think it’s a great idea, especially for those who don’t have a lot of leave saved up. As a mother, I don’t have to worry about getting the next check, which is especially important for single parents out there. So I think this is fantastic. Nobody can afford to take 12 weeks of leave without pay.

Is this benefit beneficial to your agency?

Yes. It keeps workers from having to worry about having to live from check to check. It takes stress out of expecting mothers in case they have emergencies that come up. I think this is a wonderful leave program that they just established. I’m glad that they got this passed. Thanks everyone for the hard work and those who contributed to it.

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