Mayor Johnson extends parental leave benefits to teachers union in departure from Lightfoot policy

Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune/TNS

Chicago Public Schools teachers will have essentially the same parental leave policy that city workers receive under a new plan announced on Thursday by Mayor Brandon Johnson, ending a conflict that began under his predecessor.

The district’s leave policy, which the Chicago Teachers Union fought for, will give CPS staff 12 full weeks of paid parental leave and applies whether they’re growing their family through birth, adoption or foster care, Johnson said. Surrogates will be eligible for up to eight weeks of paid leave under the new policy, which is not yet finalized but is expected to go into effect this fall.

The deal underscores a complex dynamic at City Hall under Johnson: As a longtime CTU leader whose campaign was strongly supported by labor, Johnson owes his victory in part to unions. But as mayor, he has a broader fiduciary responsibility. Asked whether the new policy is a sign of how contract negotiations with CTU will go next year, Johnson responded, “This is not a gift to the CTU.”

“This is apples and oranges,” Johnson said. “We aren’t negotiating today.”

Johnson and schools chief Pedro Martinez noted the details will be ironed out over the summer and approved by the board.

“With the creation of this policy, our teachers and school leaders cannot only show up for their students but for their own families during a very critical time in their lives,” Johnson said.

The CTU and former Mayor Lori Lightfoot battled over the district’s parental leave policy at the start of the year, with the union highlighting the discrepancy between the maximum two weeks of paid parental leave that CPS employees previously received and the three months granted to city employees as of Jan. 1.

Lightfoot credited the city’s policy update to an agreement with AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and contended CTU would need to “get at the table” to bargain a similar change in CPS.

At the time, Martinez, whom Lightfoot appointed in September 2021, echoed her contention. And a CPS spokesperson said in January that any update to district policy would require a 30-day public comment period, community engagement and an equity review.

But Martinez, Johnson and CTU President Stacy Davis Gates gathered at City Hall Thursday to announce the policy change with none of the acrimony that characterized Lightfoot’s relationship with the union.

“Parental leave is a big deal for someone like me. I’m a mother of three,” Davis Gates said, noting the hardships she faced. “I’m also a high school history teacher.”

Records released to the Tribune show a monthly average of around 26 CPS staff members took parental leave from July 2021 through January of this year.

The policy could add around $10 million to the district’s budget, Martinez said, but he added it was worthwhile for its positive effects on workers and could be an effective recruitment tool.

Martinez also said he would “encourage” the 118 charter schools under the CPS umbrella to apply the same leave policy as it works through renewals of charter school agreements. “We try to encourage, as much as possible, parity, especially around benefits.”

Davis Gates said where the union is currently negotiating contracts at organized charters, paid parental leave has been on the table. CTU just settled “a monumental contract” with Acero schools where workers were able to secure seven weeks of paid parental leave, which is “nothing to sneeze at.”

Tribune’s A.D. Quig contributed.