LaborFamily News & Views

Building a Family Friendly SUNY

SUNY
Family friendly union: Family members are always welcome at United University Professions (UUP) events. UUP’s Ziya Arnavut of Fredonia jots down a few notes at the Fall 2008 Leadership Workshops and Chapter Presidents/Vice Presidents Meeting in Syracuse. Ziya’s wife Meral, an associate professor of math at Fredonia, and daughters Eliz (12) and Selin (6) were also present at the event.

By Jamie F. Dangler

BEGINNINGS

The idea to push for family leave provisions came from rank and file members of the United University Professions (UUP).  The UUP leadership recognized the significance of this issue and in 2001 began to collect information about members’ needs and experiences.  A statewide Family Leave Committee was formed to collect information and develop contract proposals.

BUILDING SUPPORT

We published articles in our statewide UUP newsletter The Voice and in campus UUP newsletters, held Family Leave Committee meetings at our statewide Delegate Assemblies, held presentations/discussions about family leave at various campuses, conducted a statewide survey of family leave needs and published the results through reports and newsletter articles, and featured family leave as a major theme at our Fall 2006 Delegate Assembly (including a keynote speaker, informational poster session, and an open hearing).

BARGAINING VICTORIES

Greater Flexibility in the Use of Sick Leave for Family Care
UUP members employed at the State University of New York (SUNY) can use up to 30 days of accrued sick leave for death or illness of an immediate family member.

New Voluntary Reduction in Work Schedule (VRWS) Program
Under the VRWS program, an employee can defer a portion of earned income from the period it was actually earned to a period of time the employee would otherwise be on a scheduled unpaid leave. This program can help with planned family care events such as birth, adoption, family members’ surgery or other medical treatments. By taking a pay reduction for a period of time and receiving the withheld pay during a later period that would ordinarily be an unpaid leave, an employee can spread out the financial burden. Besides, as the employee does not have to come off the payroll, this program also helps avoid loss of health insurance that occurs for an unpaid leave beyond the 12 weeks covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

Statement from SUNY on the Importance of Accommodating Family Care Needs
SUNY’s central administration has issued a written communication to campus administrations encouraging them to be flexible in addressing employees’ need to balance their professional and family obligations.

Options to Stop the “Tenure Clock”
Both Academic and Professional Employees in the UUP bargaining unit have the option to request an extension of their “tenure clock” for family care or other reasons. (“Tenure clock” refers to the concept of a proverbial ticking clock with a starting and ending time period measured in years – usually seven – by which time tenure must be achieved to continue employment at the institution or leave employment at the institution due to the denial of tenure and the expiration of the " tenure clock.")

Increase in Employer Subsidy for Family Care Expenses
New York State employees can participate in a pre-tax plan that saves money on childcare, elder care, and disabled dependent care.  An employer contribution of up to $800 is available to help cover these expenses.

These new provisions add to the following provisions that were in place under previous contracts:

LESSONS LEARNED

Educating union colleagues as well as employers about the importance of family leave is critical.  People who have not directly experienced the effects of inadequate family leave may not understand its importance as a collective bargaining issue. It is also important to address workplace culture as well as specific policy objectives.  Positive change is often slow and incremental.  Union activists need to keep at it and recognize the significance of incremental changes that build up to achievement of larger goals.

Family Leave Provisions – United University Professions (UUP) & the State of New York (2007-2011)

Jamie F. Dangler is associate professor of sociology at the State University of New York at Cortland and chair of the statewide Family Leave Committee of United University Professions (UUP). She was a member of UUP’s recent contract-negotiations team. UUP represents more than 34,000 academic and professional faculty on 29 State University of New York campuses, plus System Administration, Empire State College, and the New York State Theatre Institute. UUP is affiliated with New York State United Teachers and the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and the AFL-CIO. For more information, please email jdangler(at)uupmail.org.

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