CHICAGO (WLS) -- A major policy change for family leave is on the way for Chicago Public Schools employees.
On Thursday, Mayor Brandon Johnson announced plans to double the paid time off that employees can take when starting or growing their families.
It's a big win for the Chicago Teachers Union, which, back in January, had pushed CPS to change the policy, but then-Mayor Lori Lightfoot insisted it should be a matter of negotiations.
But with former CPS teacher Brandon Johnson now mayor, things have changed, and so will the policy.
Johnson exchanged hugs with a pair of teachers after announcing plans to grant up to 12 weeks of paid family leave to CPS employees.
It gives them the same time off provided to some 32,000 city employees under a policy that went into effect for them last fall.
"With the creation of this policy, our teachers and school leaders can not only show up for their students, but for their own families," Johnson said. "When CPS employees have adequate time and support to take care of themselves and their families, this will ultimately, it will ensure that once they return from leave they come back refreshed, energized."
The policy would grant leave to eligible employees whether they grow their families through birth, adoption or fostering.
And it would apply to either parent.
One teacher got emotional sharing her story. She had to step away from teaching after the birth of her second child.
"Six weeks is just not enough time, no matter what path you have take to become a parent. The expansion to 12 weeks would have transformed my life; it would have enabled me to stay in the field," said Jimini Ofori-Amoah, a teacher for 15 years.
CPS CEO Pedro Martinez was asked about the challenge of filling vacancies and how much it might cost the district.
"We have had, especially with the pandemic, we've had several challenges, especially finding substitutes, so we've already increased significantly our funding for substitutes. We think this could add potentially another $10 million to the budget. I will tell you, I think it's a worthwhile investment," Martinez said. "I think we're gonna be in a better position to recruit teachers by having this benefit, that is really a leader not only in the state but in the country. I think it's going to send a message to teachers."
The head of the Chicago Teachers Union, which had demonstrated unsuccessfully at City Hall for the changes back in January, called this new policy transformative.
"Nearly 80% of the members are women; this policy makes sense, and it should never be at a negotiating table. In fact, this should be the norm for any woman who works in any industry," CTU President Stacy Davis-Gates said.
Tiffany Childress-Price, a 16-year teaching veteran, agreed.
"Our teaching core is 80% women, so while this is a win for working women, it's really a win for families," she said.
Johnson brushed off concerns that this policy change might be a signal about how negotiations might go with the teachers union when his administration has to work out a new contract with teachers next year.
Final details of the policy still need to be worked out this summer. Chicago Public Schools and the teachers union have establish a working group with the goal of having the policy in place for the start of the school year.