Bargaining victory: paid parental and medical leave

Starting January 1, 2021, full-time faculty and staff at the University of Florida will have access to eight weeks of both paid parental and medical leave. These new benefits are the result of fifteen months of negotiations between the United Faculty of Florida (UFF-UF), the union representing roughly 2,000 University of Florida faculty, and representatives of the UF Board of Trustees.

Bargaining team members Hélène Huet and Lisa Scott

At present, UF employees do not have paid parental or personal / family medical leave. Instead, new parents cobble together parental leave using either accumulated or borrowed sick and vacation leave, which they must later reimburse. Sick employees, meanwhile, use either sick leave or take unpaid time off in the event of a major illness.

The fight for paid leave has long been a priority for UFF-UF. In 2005, the union created a paid family leave task force and led the state in bargaining to expand leaves for all new parents, including adoptive and foster parents. Later, in 2010, the union and university agreed to a pilot paid parental leave program. Under this program, UF advanced up to 19.5 weeks of leave, but faculty later had to reimburse this time off. Unfortunately, in 2013, the university refused to extend this successful program. 

The current push for paid leaves began in April 2019 when two members of the UFF-UF Bargaining Team, Drs. Lisa Scott (Professor of Psychology) and Hélène Huet (Assistant Librarian), introduced a radical overhaul of UF’s leave policy. Drs. Scott and Huet argued that UF’s inadequate leave policies disadvantage women, faculty of color, and untenured faculty. To remedy these shortcomings, they proposed 19.5 weeks each of truly paid parental and personal / family medical leave. This proposal was designed to address inequities on campus and serve as a regional model for family-friendly workplace policies.

Representatives of the UF Board of Trustees rejected this proposal. But after months of negotiations, the UFF and BOT Bargaining Teams agreed on Thursday, June 25, to provide full-time faculty and staff with eight weeks of both paid parental and personal / family medical leave. This policy will be codified in Article 21 of the UFF-UF Collective Bargaining Agreement. 

While UFF-UF can only negotiate for the 2,000 employees it represents, the University of Florida will nevertheless extend this policy to all full-time faculty, as well as TEAMS and USPS staff. UFF-UF sincerely hopes that the university will extend the same benefits to OPS staff and negotiate paid parental and medical leave benefits with Graduate Assistants United, the union representing graduate students at the University of Florida.

In addition to the paid leave policies outlined above, the UFF-UF and BOT Bargaining Teams also agreed to convert sick and vacation leave to paid time off (PTO), which will give employees greater discretion over how they use their leave, and to forgive any outstanding leave balances associated with the previous parental leave program. 

Finally, under the June 25 agreement, in-unit faculty in their first year of employment at UF will have access to an additional eight weeks of advanced parental leave. This provision will help ensure that new faculty may take a full semester of leave, even though they have not yet accumulated eight weeks of PTO.

Going forward, UFF-UF will fight to expand this program. Eight weeks of both paid parental and medical leave is a positive first step. But all UF employees, regardless of their time at the University, should be able to access a full semester or sixteen weeks of parental and medical leave through some combination of paid leave, advanced leave, and accumulated time off.

— Your UFF-UF Bargaining Team