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.

8 COMMENTS

  1. First off, I’d like to say thank you to the Trinitonian staff for bringing this issue to light and opening up a dialogue on the importance of paid parental leave. And thank you to Jeanna Balreira for highlighting the personal impact the current policy has on Trinity staff members. I’m a proud Trinity alum and try to support the university in any way that I can. I’m thankful to have been given the opportunity to take classes at Trinity, like the Sociology of Sex Roles with Dr. Tynes, that broadened my perspective and gave me insight into the importance of things like paid maternity AND paternity leave (shout out to stay-at-home dads!). The fact that Trinity’s staff members are unable to take the time they need to spend with their newborns or have to worry about about their finances during a season that should be joyful is extremely disappointing. To be a truly progressive institution, Trinity must walk the walk. There is an opportunity here to be a leader in higher education and attract more talent that is able to better serve our community because they are well-rested, appreciated, and given the same treatment as our renowned faculty. I hope that President Anderson will dedicate time to addressing this issue.

    • Tommie, thank you for your support and for extending an alumni voice on this. Let’s keep supporting each other. Trinity is a fantastic institution–I hope it uses this conversation as an opportunity to reevaluate this policy!

  2. This article was written very well and addresses the issues in a very clear way. I applaud Jeanna for her candidness and thorough examination of the issue. The inequality is very stark especially since staff work all year round. When you also look at the fact that staff do not make the same income that faculty makes, to deny the benefit of paid leave is more damaging. It further divides the campus between those of privilege and those without. I truly hope that the Board will take this up and make the necessary changes to benefit staff as well.

  3. Jeanna, so great to see such a thoughtful response on a matter that has affected so many of us at Trinity recently! I hope TU can approve a policy that equally benefits all employees on such an important matter.

  4. I strongly agree with the position articulated in Jeanna’s editorial. As Jen Sugars argued in her comments on last week’s parental leave article, ‘our staff members are essential to making Trinity the great place it is,’ and ‘paid family leave should be a right for all levels of workers.’

    It is important to acknowledge that extending paid family leave to all employees is an expensive proposition for the university at a time when Trinity has already taken a financial hit as a result of a) the crazy tax plan that was steamrolled through Congress last year, and b) rising health care costs.

    Extending paid family leave to all employees is the right thing to do, it is a very expensive thing to do, and it will probably mean that the university needs to make cuts elsewhere. Nevertheless, we should still do this.

    It is possible that I overstate the financial costs of extending paid family leave to all employees. Jeanna, is the TSEC proposal available online?

    As a faculty member, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to be employed by this amazing institution. Our staff colleagues are an essential part of this community, and I cannot think of any reason that faculty should be entitled to more robust benefits than staff. While understanding the pressures faced by the administration, I hope they will find a way to implement the changes that Jeanna is calling for. I also hope that the Faculty Senate will consider bringing a resolution in support of TSEC’s position to the floor of the first faculty assembly in August.

    • I’m not aware if the TSEC proposal is online, but will try to find out. If it is, I will be happy to share. Thank you for offering your support as a faculty member–it’s important that the University continues to hear multiple voices and viewpoints on this topic. Please share with colleagues!

  5. Very well written, Jeanna, I look forward to seeing what changes Trinity will make on behalf of some of its most important members. Thank you for caring enough about our University to make sure we stay competitive and top tier in not just education, but as an institution as a whole!

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