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Emanuel ready to deliver paid maternity leave: ‘It’s a win-win’

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | John H. White~Sun-Times

Mayor Rahm Emanuel | John H. White~Sun-Times

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Updated: July 14, 2011 2:11AM

Speaking as a father and the son of a pediatrician, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday it’s high-time that the 10,767 women on the city payroll be offered a paid maternity leave.

One day after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that maternity leave was part of a sweeping review of all employee leave policies, Emanuel all but declared the policy change a fait accompli.

The new mayor did not miss a beat when asked whether a city facing a $700 million-a-year operating shortfall could afford to offer pregnant women the six weeks paid leave that’s pretty much standard policy in the private sector.

“I look at it differently than the question was framed. I don’t think we can afford not to. It’s time for Chicago, as it relates to its employment policy, to come into the 21st Century,” he said.

The mayor said he’s given Human Resources Commissioner Soo Choi 45 days to draft a citywide policy that mirrors “what the private sector is doing and what other cities and states are doing around the country” when it comes to maternity leave.

Coincidentally, Choi is pregnant and stands to benefit from a first-ever paid maternity leave.

“That is the right policy, both for the employer and the employee,” Emanuel said. “I can say this as a father, but also as the son of a pediatrician, it’s also the right policy for the children. It’s a win-win.”

Like a female athlete who missed out on Title IX mandating equal spending in school sports, a new maternity leave policy would come too late for Adrianne Bryant, an assistant commissioner with the Chicago Fire Department.

But, she’s thrilled that her co-workers won’t have to go through what she did when her ten-year-old son was born.

“As soon as I found out I was pregnant, I started saving my time. Even after that, I had to use Family Medical Leave, which is unpaid. Fortunately, my husband was working. But, we missed those paychecks,” Bryant said Wednesday.

“Having a baby is a significant medical event and should be treated so. If a woman has to use vacation and sick time, she may come back sooner because she can’t afford to be without a paycheck. It’s too late for me, but whenever it happens, it’s the right time. … I am overjoyed that the city is addressing this issue.”

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

Private sector companies typically offer women six weeks of paid maternity leave. The city forces pregnant women to store up unused sick days, vacation days and unpaid family leave and rush back to work before they’re ready.

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.

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