By DIANE S. WILLIAMS
DC 37 members attended three virtual Paid Family Leave (PFL) workshops sponsored by the Center for Parental Leadership to learn more about the program that pays city workers a partial salary as they put family first. The workshop also discussed steps for planning for leave.
New York State’s Paid Family Leave law is one of the most comprehensive programs in the nation. In November, Gov. Kathy Hochul expanded the law to include the care of a sick sibling, which goes into effect in 2023.
PFL is employee-paid insurance that provides workers with job security and a guaranteed paycheck when they use time off to bond with a newborn, adopted or fostered child; care for a family member with a serious health condition (which may include severe cases of COVID-19); or assist loved ones when a family member is deployed abroad on active military service.
PFL also may be available in some situations when employees or their minor, dependent children are under an order of quarantine or isolation due to COVID-19. Eligible workers may take up to 12 weeks off at 67% of their pay (up to a cap) to care for family members in times of need.
DC 37 negotiated to have PFL include nearly all members covered by the 2017-2021 collective bargaining agreement, as well as members in the non-profit and private sector locals.
Josef Szende has been a City Planner for the New York City Department of Transportation since 2017, and is a member of Civil Service Technical Guild Local 375. He learned about the Paid Family Leave program at a local union meeting and discovered he was eligible for 10 weeks in 2019 after the birth of his son, Elliott.
“This seems to still be a pretty radical idea. For some fathers, just the idea of taking any time away from work seems impossible. Too much to do, or they would lose too much money,” Szende said. “I was in those shoes, making a spreadsheet, calculating my full pay minus daycare months before my son was born. Implicitly, I tried to use math to finagle my way out of caring for my child day in and day out for a long period of time.”
Szende shares his candid expectations. “I didn’t expect the personal transformation I experienced when I became a father,” he said. “I thought that bonding would be hard, but nothing could have been further from my experience. I loved holding him from the start.”
The happy dad even finds joy through diapers, 2 a.m. feedings, and more. “It is not gross; it is something he needs and I want to help him. I have never felt like I was an inadequate or superfluous parent. It was all hands on deck from the beginning — and that includes my two hands,” Szende said.
Josef and his wife took off the first month together of their infant’s life, then each parent took two months to care for Elliott.
In 2021, PFL participants received a partial salary up to the maximum weekly amount of $971.61, or $1,943 bi-weekly, based on a statewide formula that caps at $1,450, the average weekly salary in New York. Employers continue their health insurance and guarantee them the same or a comparable job once their leave ends.
Every worker contributes to NYS PFL insurance. In 2022, the percentage deduction of 0.511% will not change, but the maximum salary will increase to $83,000, so the maximum deduction will be $423.71. The goal amount section on your paystub does not mean you will have that much deducted unless your gross salary is more than $83,000 because it is based on a percentage of income.
Employees can use the 12-week benefit all at once or by incremental full days during a 12-month period. Full-time employees who work a regular schedule of 20 or more hours per week can apply after working 26 consecutive weeks. The benefit also is available to part-time employees.
As Elliot grows, Szende said he learns many things that books don’t always tell. Through long walks and library visits, their bond of love grows stronger.
“Elliott has a bright smile and his default mode is giggly delight. He loves people,” Szende said. “I urge you fellow dads to take this opportunity if it’s given to you, create it if you can, and resist the urge to convince yourself that you cannot do it.”
For more details about the PFL benefit, please contact your DC 37 rep. To access the PFL calculator,