From the collection at the de Young, American Impressionist J.W. Twachman, 1893
San Fransisco Board of Supervisors just approved a measure to make the city the first in the country to have fully paid leave for both parents for six weeks.
A few years too late for us, now that our kids are teen-agers. I don't suppose the pay is retroactive?
One of my Ukrainian colleagues just had a baby. She has her out of office message set for longer than than six weeks though. In Ukraine, maternity leave means a years' pay, spread out over up to three years. You get however long you want to spend with your child until they start preschool.
Shortly after I had Camille my mom asked me when I was going to go back to work. I was on maternity leave from a job I loved at the San Francisco Fine Arts Museums design department. I had patched together vacation, sick leave and the standard six-weeks disability (which at the time was a unique situation in California and I was supposed to feel really fortunate) and had four months off, which was really sort of amazing and generous by U.S. standards.
As Rebecca Ruiz reports for Mashable: (italics mine)
When the former Democratic congresswoman (Patricia Schroeder) gave birth to her son and daughter, in 1966 and 1970, her employer didn’t offer any maternity leave at all. One day she was pregnant and employed, and the next she had a baby but no job. “It was just assumed you were going to quit,” she said. “They kind of counted you out at that point.”
That experience, in part, motivated her to sponsor the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in the House of Representatives. She began with ambitious plans. After consulting T. Berry Brazelton, the pediatrician and child development expert, Schroeder felt six months was optimal for exclusive breastfeeding and parent-child bonding.
Her original bill proposed six months for mothers and time off for fathers as well as a pilot for paid leave. But the legislation stalled and that number quickly seemed out of reach under President Ronald Reagan and with a Republican-controlled Senate. To attract co-sponsors and votes, Schroeder reintroduced the bill with four months of job-protected leave. It fell far short of the generous paid leave offered in European countries, but was revolutionary for American policy-making. The whittling, however, had just begun.
The Chamber of Commerce and other business lobbies opposed the legislation, and some politicians claimed it would destroy American companies. By the time the bill passed nine years later — after two vetoes by President George H.W. Bush — the bill applied only to companies with 50 employees or more and Congress had reduced the number to 12 unpaid weeks.
During that time, Zero to Three, a nonprofit child development organization founded by Brazelton and other leading experts, recommended a minimum of six months, if not a year.
After my mom asked me when I as going back to work, I ran into the bathroom and cried into a towel because I couldn't imagine leaving my newborn and going back to work, even though I loved my job.
Not only was the job interesting, but my four days a week was treated as full-time. The union was so strong, and my insurance plan was so good that after a $35 co-pay at my first OB visit, absolutely everything was covered and we never paid another cent to have Camille at a gorgeous, first-rate hospital. Still, in the hormonal soup I was living in, my fabulous union didn't change the fact that Camille would have to stay with someone else all day when she was 4 months and one day old.
As you may know, working in the museum world has never been a get-rich scheme and daycare would cost nearly as much as my after-tax paycheck. And I hadn't signed up for daycare before I'd gotten pregnant and therefore would have a hard time finding anyone in the city who would take a baby "on such short notice." I couldn't imagine Camille in a row of babies, one of many to be taken care of. She was such an easy baby, I knew she would be the one to never get picked up or talked to because she has never been a demanding person. (Until she had to go to boarding school and had to have the red shoes from Zara for prom, but that wasn't when she was twelve weeks old.)
My friend Mike had recently started his design business. He gave me a pep talk and told me he would toss projects my way. So with the support of Peter who has always let me do whatever I wanted, I quit one of the best jobs I ever had.
I handed over my ID badge. I said good-bye to my colleagues and Sargent's Mrs Vicker at the Dining Table. I stood in front of the Bierstat in an empty gallery one more time, once more let myself be vaguely creeped out by the crazy shadows of the African sculptures on the walls after the bright lights were off and the museum was closed. I said so long to exhibit-opening parties with movie stars, seeing Audubon paintings unframed before they were hung and designing invitations using Picasso's artwork owned by the museum. But Camille was an even more incredible creation to me, kissing the inside of her star-shaped hands a more interesting project.
"You're quitting? Are you crazy?" one of my colleagues at the museum said,"This is a union job!"
After a few months, my neighbor, who had a baby a couple weeks older than Camille, went back to work at her technical writing job. I started to do some freelance work, and within the first year made as much working a few days a week as I had full-time, but of course, with no benefits.
America is in a very select group: three countries in the world provide new parents with no Social Security-like benefit or mandate that businesses pay their employees even a portion of their normal salaries (except in San Francisco! For six weeks! Go us!) The U.S. is in this special group with Suriname and Papua New Guinea. We are the only developed country in this category.
The night after my colleague here in Kyiv told me she is going to be gone for the next year probably, I dreamt I was working at the museum still, and that my lovely boss was retiring, which meant I could apply for his job.
Whenever I saw the person who replaced me during my maternity leave, who then applied for and got my job, she was always so grateful that I decided not to come back. She always thanked me for the great job opportunity. I bet she's still there, and probably like in my dream, the head of the department.
My former boss really did retire a few years ago and they've totally rebuilt the de Young. When I walk in, I'm not greeted by my brochures, signage and banners; I don't feel like I own the place anymore, I don't even know where Mrs Vicker is hanging.
Out of curiosity I got online recently and looked at the de Young/Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco website, and checked out the jobs section. Current job opening : Graphic Designer in the Exhibits Department.
Maybe now that Camille is going to college I should consider my unpaid maternity leave over and go back?
At my current job I do graphic design for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, Ukraine and I help the grants team make decisions about how to support people who want to save the world with human-rights oriented projects. In the last year, Peter and the kids and I have traveled to Cyprus, Vienna, Latvia and Switzerland. I got to do an MFA program at an art school in Europe, which made me appreciate the paintings I saw 20 years ago on a daily basis even more. I'm happy where we are at.
But if you want a fun job where people refer to the priceless, ancient Mayan sculpture in the Oceana collection as the "Toilet Seat," where you can become personal friends with some of the works of the world's master artists, check out the Fine Arts Museums webpage for job openings, there are always a few because anyone who can do a museum job can work at Google and afford day care.
The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's employees belong to a strong union, with a retirement program, every holiday known to federal workers and excellent benefits. But maternity-leave wise, the city union nor San Francisco still don't allow parents to catch up with the rest of the world, including Ukraine.