Chicago Archdiocese To Offer Paid Family Leave

Jun 16, 2016
Originally published on June 16, 2016 8:07 am
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When American businesses think about what it takes to make their workers happy and to retain them, parental leave is one big attraction. Starting next month, one of the Catholic Church's biggest archdiocese is offering just that, as NPR's Cheryl Corley reports from Chicago.

CHERYL CORLEY, BYLINE: When Archbishop Blase Cupich became the head of the Catholic Church in the Chicago region in late 2014, he says one of the things he asked about right away was whether the church offered its workers paid parental leave.

BLASE CUPICH: Because I come from a large family of eight brothers and sisters, and I have 17 nephews and nieces. Many of them are married and have children. And so I have first-hand experience of the pressures that are placed on young families and young couples.

CORLEY: The Archbishop learned that, in order for employees welcoming a new child in their family to take time off, they'd have to accumulate and use sick leave, so he wanted to change that policy to be more supportive.

CUPICH: It really is a part of the church's teaching to support families. And I thought we should have policies that mirrored what we believe.

CORLEY: The Chicago Archdiocese has about 15,000 full and part-time employees. The parental leave policy would apply to about 7,000 of them. And the archdiocese estimates about 200 employees a year will take advantage of it. Thirty-year-old Margaret Bush, a special education teacher, plans to be one of them. On the last day of classes at St. Andrew Catholic School in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood, Bush strolls the hallway.

MARGARET BUSH: These are our first-grade classrooms right here. They're out of uniform. It's the last day of school, and they're 6 years old, so (laughter) they're excited.

CORLEY: Bush heads to her office in the former convent where nuns used to live.

BUSH: So this actually used to be, like, a dorm room for, like, a nun when they used to teach here, so (laughter)...

CORLEY: Bush and her husband, Chris, are expecting their first child in August. And she planned to use sick days for maternity leave.

BUSH: I had about 30 days or so, which would give me six weeks of paid leave. But that would be me using all of my sick time that I had gathered from the past.

CORLEY: So Bush says the new 12-weeks-off-with-pay policy relieves a lot of stress for her and her husband.

BUSH: It's been such a blessing because we're still concerned about how we're going to make everything work and how we're going to find child care that's affordable. And it's going to be very helpful for us financially.

CORLEY: The U.S. Labor Department says just 12 percent of private sector employees have some form of paid family leave. The new policy is expected to cost the Chicago diocese, which has struggled financially, about a million dollars a year. But Archbishop Cupich says the policy is a smart business decision that will help attract and keep young, energetic employees at Catholic institutions.

CUPICH: We can spend money in a lot of other ways - we do - in, sometimes, maintaining buildings. I'd rather invest in people. And I think it's important to make sure that we make prudent decisions that are going to invest in people and help us build the future of this archdiocese.

CORLEY: The Catholic Labor Network's Employer Project tracks labor-relations practices at Catholic hospitals, schools and diocese. Director Clayton Sinyai says the plan recognizes changes in their workforce.

CLAYTON SINYAI: A lot of them were built around the model where most of the labor was coming from, often, religious who had taken a vow of poverty. So they neither had the same wage demands nor the same family obligations as the laypeople who have increasingly filled these roles.

CORLEY: And for that reason, Sinyai calls the Chicago Archdiocese's decision a milestone, plus an example that he says many Catholic business leaders may follow. Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.