Family & Medical Leave: A Union Makes a Difference

Keeping up with professional commitments at a large research university can be daunting. Writing, publishing, teaching, grading, advising and professional development demand significant investments of time and energy. But many faculty members also juggle challenging family duties—having and caring for children, and often, caring for older relatives as well. Faculty need access to a range of options for balancing family and professional responsibilities, and they look to their university employer for help. Many universities provide family leave or modified duty arrangements at critical moments in family life. Research by the Campus Faculty Association shows, however, that unionized faculty, whether tenure track or non-tenure track, fare better than non-unionized faculty when it comes to family and medical leave benefits. In particular, faculty unions at other research universities have won substantial gains over what we have at UIUC right now.

Under current policies, UIUC faculty are largely at the mercy of departments and higher administration when they seek leave, even for serious medical issues or major life events. Paid medical and parental leave is nearly non-existent—tenured faculty here only receive about two sick days per month, less than half of which can carry over from year to year. Even unpaid leaves for medical reasons are only guaranteed up to the federal minimum; beyond that it is up to the discretion of deans and department heads. We can do better.

In this report, we summarize how UIUC compares to unionized campuses in the areas of 1) family and medical leave 2) parental leave (paid and unpaid) and 3) the use of sick leave 4) opportunities for modified duties 5) transparency. We think you will agree that there is much room for improvement. These findings apply to tenured, tenure-track and non-tenure track employees, as many of the contracts we studied mandate family and medical leave across the range of faculty titles.


Federal legislation, known as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), provides a minimum floor for benefits in this area. The FMLA applies to all public agencies, including state run university systems. It provides for twelve workweeks of job-protected leave in a twelve month period. As a UIUC faculty member, this is your only guaranteed leave for all major medical and family related events. FMLA leave may be paid leave, but this is not required. At UIUC it is unpaid unless you elect to use your accumulated sick leave, and this still requires administrative approval.



Many collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) include entitle- ment to some paid leave time for new parents. UIUC’s current rules provide two weeks paid parental leave to faculty members who have served at least six months. Such leave must be taken in full and cannot include any period of modified duties. As anyone who has had a new baby in the house realizes, two weeks leave is inadequate, to say the least. Compare this to the contract held by the chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) at the University of New Hampshire, which provides for a full twelve weeks paid leave. The agreement between the California State University system and the California Faculty Association grants 30 consecutive days paid leave, requiring only that the leave commence between 60 days prior to the child’s anticipated arrival date and 75 days after.


Unlike UIUC, nearly all institutions with unionized faculties guarantee a longer period of unpaid leave in addition to the FMLA entitlement. The CBA covering faculty at the University of Delaware (UD) provides for unpaid family leave separate from FMLA leave. UD provides for one year per child, up to a maximum of two years per faculty member. Once this two year maximum is reached, FMLA leave can be used for time off related to the birth or adoption of a child. The contracts held by the AAUP at University of Connecticut and University of Rhode Island (URI) specify six months, including the twelve weeks of FMLA leave. The SUNY United University faculty members get seven months, and the University of Vermont United Academics as well as the University of Cincinnati AAUP have contracts which grant up to one year. Most of these contracts also make extensions available to faculty who request it. For instance, the U of Cincinnati allows the exten- sion of “child-rearing leave” up to a maximum of two years, and URI provides an extension of six months.


UIUC has a sick leave policy which is substantially inferior to the policies of most comparable, unionized institutions. Faculty here can accumulate a maximum of twelve sick days per year, while those at the Universities of Rhode Island, Cincinnati and New York get a minimum of fifteen. Senior faculty at SUNY get up to 20, and all faculty at CUNY get 20 sick days per year, and can accumulate a maximum of 300. UIUC has a tricky policy which specifies that, once a faculty member has exhausted their cumulative sick days, thirteen non-cumulative sick days become available. The use of sick days is the only way to draw any income (after the first two weeks) while on parental leave at UIUC.


UIUC Campus Administrative Manual includes section IX- C-45, “Modified Teaching Duties for Faculty Members with a New Child.” It acknowledges the strain on departments and students when a faculty member takes time off, and stipulates in a fairly progressive fashion an alternative to taking full parental leave. (Note that the emphasis is on departmental, not parental needs.) UIUC’s modified duties policy states that, in order to care for a new child, the faculty member may be relieved of teaching duties without any reduction in salary provided they keep up with their other “professional responsibilities… (e.g., preparation of research proposals, papers, and course materials; supervision of graduate student research).” This is a positive provision which faculty should strive to maintain as a kind of base line. It does not apply to non-tenure track faculty. We can improve on this.


The vast majority of collective bargaining agreements are de- finitive, exclusive policy documents for all terms of employment and administration to which they refer. A faculty member can find all provisions regarding family and related benefits in the CBA. They are not subject to change without bargaining. By contrast, in terms of family benefits and related issues, faculty at UIUC may refer to three different sources to ascertain their benefits: The General Rules, approved directly by the Board of Trustees, which specify sick day leave.

The Campus Administrative Manual (CAM), the definitive policy document for UIUC which contains more than half a dozen provisions on maternity and paternity leave. It is available in full at

The Academic Staff Handbook (ASH), which is the most widely distributed and the least updated resource. Though most faculty refer to this, the Handbook itself warns that it “is not a policy document in and of itself and may not reflect the most updated policies available. Please see the policies refer- enced or follow up with the contacts listed to confirm current applicable details.”

Not only can a CBA secure and guarantee better benefits, it can also concentrate the information in one place—it is a legally binding public document which is readily available to all.


As you can see from our research, collective bargaining can have a positive impact on faculty benefits in regard to balancing family and professional life. These benefits are especially crucial for women faculty whose academic careers are frequently disrupted or slowed-down due to the demands of pregnancy, childbirth and childcare issues. Women are also more likely to bear responsibility for aging parents and relatives.

We urge you to join us in our campaign to establish collective bargaining at UIUC. In the past CFA has made significant contributions to gender equity and the availability of child care on campus. We can move forward to more adequate and equitable family leave policies. Improving family benefits is important not only for ensuring better working conditions for faculty in the short run, but also for attracting and retaining the sort of researchers and teachers that a top public university requires.

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