Maternity Madness: Panel Explores Problems in Leave Laws

The United States can boast about being a highly developed country in terms of technology and wealth. With an average median household income of $51,939 according to the U.S. Census Bureau, outsiders may think we also have a high level of economic equality and opportunity. However, this is not the case regarding family leave across the country. New York family leave laws do not protect the public sector workers, which means most new mothers have few options when it comes to paid leave.

According to Kiersten Greene, assistant professor of literacy in the elementary education department, a major reason why the United States law does not protect family leave is because of capitalist interest. Greene said that as a culture, Americans value the hardworking people who put in long hours and in turn will benefit a large corporate business. Americans are known to be high-energy workers in search of financial success, and large companies may puppet employees with little pay and long hours for small promotions. Another major drawback with the American dream is business responsibilities taking precedence over maintaining a stable, enjoyable family life.

“The need to accumulate more and more in this country has been put ahead of taking care of human beings. It’s a special brand of capitalism in this country that has put employers ahead instead of taking care of employees,” Greene said.

Greene knows firsthand what it is like to experience the disadvantage of working in a facility that doesn’t have set practices laid out for women who need to take time off while caring for an infant. She states she is “very lucky to have her baby arrive in the spring,” because she was able to have the summer off in order to spend time parenting. Because SUNY New Paltz does not have a maternity leave policy, Greene had to use the limited number of sick days she had accumulated to take time off for the arrival of her son. The alternative was to go unpaid.

Others face the same challenge and still aren’t as lucky. Jessica Pabón, a professor of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, states that mothers will face obstacles that are currently being addressed by activists, such as paid leave and excused time off. According to Pabón, access to adequate time off will only serve our economy better, since taking time to raise children who will become future workers is essential for a strong economy. Also, if the pressure to return quickly is enforced in businesses, this will pose excess stress on employees who have dual responsibilities as parents and workers.

“What we are asking of parents (not just women) is to have children and reproduce citizens with an absolutely unacceptable social support structure, so that having a family is considered a personal choice rather than a political and economic (and thus social) issue,” Pabón said.

Mandating a minimal time period for leave as directed by state and federal governments addresses women’s as well as human rights. If women procreate the future generations and provide a significant amount of the current workforce, this stands as everyone’s issue. The panel urged citizens to spread awareness and promote better paid family leave in order to sustain the future health of the community.