Emily James created and delivered this petitionThank you for having me. I’m here to shed light on an issue that has long been important to the parents and children of the DOE. In 2012, I got pregnant with my first daughter. I was so excited, like most first time mothers are. But I didn’t realize then what I know now: that pregnancy marked the beginning of new life for me, not just because I would become a mother, but because I would embark on a long financial struggle that would continue with me for years. My decision with my husband to create a beautiful family of four has left me with my life savings depleted, and in a constant state of panic over not being able to get out of my negative balance.
My story is not unique. Back in May, I started a petition to ask our union to help fight for paid parental leave. Since then, it has exploded: receiving almost 80,000 signatures, and still growing. When I began this petition, I had no idea how many thousands of other women and men were affected by this poor policy. They wrote story after story of how much they have struggled and are still struggling. Women wrote that they are scared to begin a family at all because of this policy, and keep putting it off out of financial fear. Some wrote about missing rent payments and fearing eviction because they had medical complications before birth and just did not have a cushion to lean on. Some wrote about leaving the profession all together because they could not fit motherhood into their lives with this lack of support; It was easier for them to turn somewhere else. I received email after email of story after story about people who were so horribly affected. I wanted to print out the petition comments so you could read all of the stories yourself. But the document was 684 pages long.
This should not be a thing! It should not be a choice for women to be excellent teachers to the students of NYC or to be mothers for their own children. As you know, when we become mothers to our babies, we have to use our sick days in order to be paid for up to 6 weeks, 8 weeks if a C section. Most of us do not have enough days to cover that time, and if we already had a child, then forget it. Having a baby is not a sickness. Borrowed time is not maternity leave time. It is a loan that many women are never able to pay back. I have been buying back one day a month for a whole year and am still in a negative balance. I need that money to help with my two daughters, my mortgage, my life. This also becomes an issue of gender equality. Men are able to retire with many more days that they can cash in. When we retire, if we have decided to have and raise children, or stay with them until they are 6, 8 or 12 WEEKS old, we will have so many fewer days than most men.
Have you seen what a 6 week old baby looks like? Have you held one? Most of us have to drop that tiny child off to strangers and return to work, and we have had to pay out of pocket just to stay home with them for that short time. They do not sleep through the night. They are still breastfeeding. And then we return, in the negative balance, we are further penalized when we get sick, or when they get sick. Sending a mother of a six week old back to work to teach America’s youth, financially strapped, ridden with anxiety, exhaustion, isn’t just bad for that mother. It’s bad for everyone.
I’m sure I don’t have to point out the irony here. But I will. We dedicate our lives to taking care of other people’s children, we become second mothers to them, sometimes first. The system expects that from us, and we deliver. But when it comes time for us to do the bare minimum for our own children, the system forgets us, makes it impossible for us, tells us we are on our own.
This petition is not for me: I am done having children, but this needs to be changed for all of the mothers and fathers of our future.
There are close to 80,000 signatures for this petition. It has gained media attention, national attention, international attention. People are watching us, they are expecting more from us. Studies have shown time and time again that babies benefit immensely from being home with their mothers for the first year of life. The teachers of the DOE need more.. They deserve more time, they deserve to be paid for it. Why aren’t we fighting for them? Let’s not let them, or their children…who become our children…let’s not let any of them down.
We pay you our dues dutifully month after month, year after year. You are the only voice we have. We are here in numbers, 80,000 strong, demanding in the most polite way we know how, that you stop ignoring us, that you help us begin this fight, and don’t stop fighting for us until we make the situation right.
I gave birth July 10, 2017 – 3 days before my due date. Teachers have said I was “lucky” to be due over the summer. It wasn’t luck. I have been trying to conceive for a couple years, but only had a small window – the month of October of each year. That would give me a late June – early July due date. My due date wasn’t “lucky” – it was meticulously planned. I used apps to track my cycle and ovulation and in October 2016 I bought an ovulation kit. I conceived that month. Had I not gotten pregnant, I would’ve waited another year to try again. I wanted to be due early/mid July. I NEEDED to be due early/mid July. You see, I did not have enough sick days to cover a 6 week maternity leave. I wouldn’t be able to afford taking any unpaid time off.I only took 4 days off during the entire school year, 3 of them due to my severe morning sickness. I lost 21 pounds the first 6 months and at the time I gave birth, I was still under my pre-pregnancy weight. My pregnancy was considered high risk because of a previous health condition. Despite numerous days of debilitating morning sickness, even in my third trimester, I went to work. There were mornings I vomited in the trash can outside of the school as I waited for security to open the doors for the day. Despite almost passing out on the train station platform during my morning commute, on more than one occasion, I went to work. On the really bad days, I hunched over the platform edge and hurled onto the tracks, then continued to go to work. I could not afford to use any more sick days. I need them just in case I would have to be put on bed rest the last few weeks of my pregnancy. But I survived the school year.I went into labor and was admitted into the hospital the morning of Monday July 10th. During labor, I ran a fever and had an infection. My daughter was born at 6:49p weighing 5lbs 13oz. My full term baby was the size of a premature baby. She would be in the NICU for the next three days because of my infection.
When I went for my six week postpartum check up on Aug 20th, my doctor recognized I had some postpartum complications and advised I not return to work. Despite being advised to take a significant amount of time off, I quickly referred to the school calendar to figure out that I only had enough sick days to take September off (17 working days). I could not afford to take any unpaid days off.As of today, September 25, 2017, I am preparing to return to work in a week. My health and well being will just have to take a back seat. My daughter, who is only 11 weeks old as of today, will have to take a back seat.
Mulgrew’s response from Arthur Goldstein’s report—Thanks teachers for petition. Made sure it got to city hall. Have given city numerous proposals. Mayor said he would make sure city had it. Not one city unionized employee had it. Those who do paid too much. Says city profits off their adding members to family. Says that’s what they want from us. Agrees with NY Post. Says OLR not being truthful. Will take petition. Says they will figure it out. Will not allow them to do what happened to city managers. Like paying $75 for a Big Mac. Mayor said two years ago he wanted this. No one has it. City always wants more. Says union believes in this. Looks forward to this. OLR now says it will equalize, but is profiting from managers. We analyzed it. Were happy. UFT has created benefits from Welfare Fund. Mayor’s agencies have dropped the ball. We will move forward, emphatic thanks for petitions. Will get it done one way or other.We won’t agree to bad terms. Will not be fleeced.