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Thursday, June 13, 2024

The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Bascom Hall photographed Nov. 6. Banners designed by UW-Madison doctoral student Molli Pauliot and faculty members Marianne Fairbanks and Stephen Hilyard are meant to represent commitment to "respecting the inherent sovereignty of the Ho-Chunk Nation and the other Native Nations of Wisconsin."

UW System employees to receive six weeks of paid family leave

Most UW System employees will receive six weeks of paid family leave beginning in July following an advocacy campaign from campus unions and department chairs.

The University of Wisconsin System will begin offering six weeks of paid parental leave to its employees following more than a decade of research, debate and pressure from UW System employees and unions.

“We are proud to say our voices were heard,” Madeline Topf, a UW-Madison graduate student worker and Teaching Assistants’ Association co-president, said in a statement Tuesday. “Labor unions representing graduate students, faculty and staff demanded paid leave for all UW employees; our power is undeniable when we work together.”

The proposal allows employees up to six weeks of paid time off following the birth or adoption of a child. It covers all full-time employees in the UW System who have been employed for at least six consecutive months. 

At UW-Madison, lecturers, research interns and graduate students in teaching, research and project assistant roles will also be covered.

The proposal will go before the UW Board of Regents for review Thursday before taking effect on July 1. It’s estimated to impact 1,525 system employees per year, including 875 at UW-Madison. It will cost the system approximately $458,500 annually, according to Board of Regents meeting materials.

“Providing this benefit has been a major commitment of Chancellor Mnookin and shared governance, and brings UW-Madison and the other Universities of Wisconsin campuses closer in line with peer institutions,” UW-Madison spokesperson John Lucas said in an email to The Daily Cardinal.

The move follows more than a decade of research at UW-Madison.

In 2022, an ad-hoc working group commissioned in 2016 recommended the university adopt a six-week paid leave plan. The group’s report also found that 90% of universities similar to UW-Madison offer faculty an average of eight weeks of paid leave and 80% offer graduate students an average of five weeks.

Pressure started to pick up again last spring. Drawing inspiration from Gov. Tony Evers’ state budget proposal, the TAA, United Faculty and Academic Staff and other campus labor organizations wrote a letter to Chancellor Mnookin requesting 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for all UW employees. The letter collected over 700 signatures. 

On Valentine’s Day, organizers presented Mnookin with the letter as well as a set of valentines featuring written testimonials from graduate students. That same morning, Democratic state lawmakers introduced a paid leave bill that would cover up to 14 weeks of paid family and medical leave for Wisconsin workers.

More than 40 department chairs and program directors issued a letter of their own last month calling for paid leave and endorsing the unions’ campaign. Sixty percent of department chairs in the College of Letters & Sciences, 87% in the College of Engineering and 50% in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences signed on, according to UFAS.

Meanwhile, the Faculty Senate and UW administration worked behind the scenes to develop a policy. 

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“We sent a clear message to the chancellor that paid leave can’t be kicked down the road again,” said Robert Hawkins, UFAS Organizing Committee chair.

In a statement Tuesday morning, UFAS applauded the proposal, calling it a “major step in the right direction.”

PROFS, the advocacy wing of UW-Madison’s Faculty Senate, echoed the same sentiment in an email to the Cardinal commending UW officials while still pressing them to go further.

“We believe this needs to be a first step, not the final step. More needs to be done to ensure faculty and staff, along with other workers in the state, have strong paid family leave, not just parental leave. Employing the expertise of the UW-Madison faculty on this topic, we will continue to make this case at the state and federal levels,” PROFS wrote.

The TAA and UFAS vowed to continue pushing for a 12-week policy that includes medical leave. 

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Nick Bumgardner

Nick Bumgardner is a staff writer with The Daily Cardinal covering state news and politics. You can follow him on Twitter at @nickbum_.

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