Dear Alma| Questions about Pregnancy and Leave

Dear Alma,

I am a non-tenure track faculty member and I’m now quite visibly pregnant.  So far, I have not been issued a teaching contract for next year, and I think my condition will factor into the Department Chair’s  decision about a new contract for me.  I haven’t spoken about this yet with him/her because I would prefer he/she  not even know what’s going on.  Although it is getting hard to hide.   How could a union help?

Signed … Looming Large.


Dear Looming,

I get it.  It’s hard to know what to expect when you’re expecting  and working on a short-term contract.  Up until the 1970s, teachers and professors who got pregnant were often just fired or not renewed.   Today it’s illegal to discriminate against someone because of pregnancy.  Your department chair would want to be fair, I think.

Here’s how a union could help.  Non-discrimination  language in a union contract could protect you by specifying that any non-renewal associated with pregnancy could be investigated as a possible grievance, so you wouldn’t be on your own if you needed to file a complaint.   At present at U of I, you can use your sick days to access FMLA benefits,  if you have worked longer than a year and are full-time.    But the “modified duties” that allow tenure-track faculty to have an altered schedule with full pay after the birth or adoption of a child are not specified for NTTs.

A contract with a maternity leave provision could allow you to come back after time off to give birth and re-group.  A union for non-tenure-track employees would also mean there is better potential for a long-term contract, or at a minimum knowing earlier than June or July if your contract will extend into the next school year, thus allowing you to plan ahead.  And look for day care.  That’s another tough one!

Love,  Alma

Dear Alma,

Why is pregnancy so often defined by employers as an illness?  Why do I have to use my sick days if I’m not sick?

Signed, Even Larger.

Dear Larger,

I don’t know.  Probably something to do with the 19th century.  For a very different perspective, check out the parental leave policies in Denmark and Norway.  In any case, we can do better with a union.

Love, Alma


Published by Susan Davis

I teach in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois.

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