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City Hall eyeing paid maternity leave for workers

Updated: July 13, 2011 4:53AM

It looks like City Hall may be emerging from the Dark Ages when it comes to offering paid maternity leave to pregnant women.

Tucked away in the memo from Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s chief of staff about the sweeping review of employee leave policies currently under way is one line that’s likely to warm the hearts of thousands of women on the city payroll.

“Importantly, the rules regarding the issuance of administrative leave must be reviewed, considering as well a maternity leave policy,” chief of staff Theresa Mintle wrote in a July 1 memo to Human Resources Commissioner Soo Choi.

Ten years ago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that City Hall has no maternity policy for its 10,767 female employees.

Private sector companies typically offer women six weeks of paid maternity leave. The city offers no such maternity leave. That forces pregnant women to cobble together unused sick days, vacation days and unpaid family leave and rush back to work before they’re ready.

That’s not only an archaic policy. It’s “not humane,” said Ald. Joe Moore (49th).

“It doesn’t recognize that giving birth is a physically traumatic event. It also doesn’t take into account the fact that a mother needs time with her newborn, and the newborn needs time with the mother,” Moore said.

Informed that Emanuel was at least considering offering paid maternity leave, Moore said, “It’s great that he’s bringing the city into the 21st Century — or maybe the 20th Century. That’s something that should have been done a long time ago. Women are now very much a part of the workforce. We want to acknowledge that.”

Ald. Ameya Pawar (47th) added, “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t have a formal policy. But, it also speaks to the mayor’s progressive agenda that he is looking at putting in place policies and programs that make sure we reflect the 21st Century workforce.”

In 2006, then-Ald. Burton F. Natarus (42nd) tried and failed to set the stage for paid maternity leave by guaranteeing both men and women on the city payroll six weeks of unpaid parental leave after the birth of a child, adoption or foster care assignment.

The unpaid leave would have begun after “all available sick days and vacation days” had been exhausted. It would have been in addition to the 12 weeks of job-protected leave required under the Family Medical Leave Act.

Over the years, women in city government have taken the absence of a maternity leave in stride.

Law Department spokeswoman Jennifer Hoyle said Tuesday she “really didn’t have a problem” when she took time off twice to give birth to twins and a third child.

“I had a lot of sick days and vacation days,” Hoyle said. “I currently get 23 vacation days a year. So, the combination of sick and vacation days ensured that I was paid during my leave. Also, I took the required number of furlough days during that period, which accounted for some of the time as well. I still had sick days and vacation days left when I came back” to work.

While pregnant with her first child, Mara Georges, Chicago’s longest-serving corporation counsel, stockpiled 51 sick and vacation days and tried to use as few as possible by working from home and being in constant touch with the office.

“I’m lucky, in that I have a husband and a husband who works. But, I can see for a single mother, it would be a much more difficult situation,” Georges said at the time.

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