Faculty at ARC urge equality or flexibility for workplace leave

ARC faculty not given adequate leave to take care of themselves and their family


The campaign for Family Workplace Justice attended a boards of trustees meeting on March 8 at the Los Rios District Office. They have received a third of the signatures needed for a petition calling to improve workplace benefits. (Photo courtesy of Sara Smith)

The Campaign for Family Workplace Justice originated at American River College, but now is advocating for fully paid parental leave, family leave and medical leave for all Los Rios faculty.

Lori Beccarelli, professor of nutrition at ARC, said new leave policies can eliminate faculty from being penalized when taking care of themselves and their families.

The main goal of the campaign is to try to improve faculty benefits through union contract negotiations.

“We are currently in a contract negotiation year as our faculty contract is expiring this semester,” Beccarelli said in an email to the Current. “Bargaining for our new contract is currently underway, and we are doing what we can to fight for more just family leave policies in our contract.”

According to Sara Smith, professor of history at ARC, the petition for these benefits has been signed by a third of the faculty. 

“This petition calls for 12 weeks of fully paid parental, family caregiving and serious health leave, fully paid without drawing from accumulated sick leave,” Smith said.

This leave will benefit Los Rios staff when taking care of a sick loved one or if the faculty member needs to take time off to take care of themselves if they end up ill.

Smith said the Campaign for Family Justice used to be known as the Campaign for Family Leave, but they are now working towards more than just family leave benefits.

“A lot of us are in what’s called the sandwich generation, where you’re taking care of kids and you are also in a situation where you’re having to take care of a sick or dying loved one,” Smith said.

When Smith looked at the parental leave policy while awaiting the arrival of her child, she was surprised to see she would only get one day of fully paid parental leave.

“I found the policy to be totally inadequate and lacking in generosity,” Smith said.

Smith’s mom was diagnosed with cancer around the time that her child was born. 

“While I was taking care of my kid, I was also busy going back and forth to Los Angeles to care of my mom and spend time with her,” Smith said. “All the while I was teaching online at the time, so I had the flexibility to travel back and forth.”

Smith said she regrets not being able to focus on spending time with her mom.

“Instead of bonding with her, I often found myself sitting on the couch next to her grading or preparing modules for the new week,” Smith said. 

Smith said it’s because of experiences like this that the faculty working towards workplace justice is also asking for flexibility to work online when needed.

“For educational purposes I think we need to go back to in-person more, but I think there should be some flexibility that recognizes the humanity of the faculty who are teaching these classes,” Smith said.

According to Smith, childcare can cost upwards of $1,300 per child and can get expensive for faculty.

“We’re advocating for subsidies to offset the very high cost of childcare and family caregiving,” Smith said.

According to Smith, many other community college districts have better faculty benefits which proves that the district can do something to improve.

Beccarelli said that the campaign has held storytelling events on social media and by putting up posters on campus to share faculty experiences.

“We have collected stories from our union members that demonstrate how paltry our leave policies are and how they have negatively affected people,” Beccarelli said. “We share these stories widely so that others can see how impactful these issues are.”

The United States is one of the only countries that doesn’t have paid parental leave.

Smith said that Los Rios faculty accumulate 10 sick leave days per year and they have the ability to roll over.

Smith says most staff that are having kids are new employees that are at a disadvantage because they haven’t accumulated that much sick leave and can’t carry it over to future years.

”So people who are using accumulated sick leave are disadvantaged in retirement,” Smith said. “It adds to your years of service, how much sick leave you have left.”

Smith said that women are the predominant caregivers, which is also a disadvantage for them.

“So it’s women being financially penalized,” Smith said. “Who are being traumatized by our horrible policies.”

According to Smith, the Family Workplace Justice campaign found success during the last round of contract negotiations when they were a smaller group.

“We went from one day of parental leave to five days,” Smith said. “And we went from three days of critical illness leave to seven days.”

Smith said part-timers are largely affected because they can’t afford the high cost of care and take unpaid leave. 

The Family Workplace Justice campaign attended a Board of Trustees town hall meeting on March 8 where people spoke to specific issues. These included part-timer rights, gender and racial justice and how students are affected among many others.

Not only are staff affected when they need to take leave, but also students because if staff aren’t in the mental capacity to teach, students will suffer because they won’t be in the best learning environment.

“You can’t treat us poorly and expect our students to thrive in that atmosphere,” Smith said.

Beccarelli said that better policies will allow faculty to perform at their best.

“We all want to be there 100% for our students and we want to support them as much as we can,” Beccarelli said. “Having better policies for us to take care of ourselves and our families will allow us to do that.”

According to Smith, although they did not get any improvements to bereavement leave or child care subsidies, the campaign for Family Workplace Justice received improvements to some benefits they were asking for.

The agreement settled on April 28 included eight weeks paid parental leave, six weeks paid caregiving leave and critical illness leave including the use of accumulated sick leave and four weeks of catastrophic leave.

“We interpret this as a major victory,” Smith said. “The Los Rios District has the best parental and family caregiving leave in the entire state when compared to other community college districts.”