Father’s Day is a time to celebrate and recognize the important role fathers play in a child’s life. Former Staten Islander, Jerry Cammarata, fought for and received the first paternity leave in New York and the United States. That historic moment was 50 years ago. Cammarata continues to support paid family leave in New York and wants similar legislation passed federally.
Paid Family Leave in New York
The term “Paid Family Leave” is the updated title and benefits of Cammarata’s paternity leave journey. Paid Family Leave in New York State gives up to 12 weeks of job-protected time off to moms and dads of newborn, adopted and foster children. It also applies to workers who need to care for siblings or elders. The pay is capped at 67% of the statewide average weekly wage.
But there is no similar federal legislation for parents. (NOTE: There is the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, but it has some differences, mostly in that it is an unpaid leave.)
“For the last 50 years paternity leave and now Paid Family Leave has been a part of political rhetoric, but never elevated to federal legislation,” Cammarata said. “According to Gloria Steinem, and I firmly believe this: ‘you will never achieve equality in the home until you achieve equality in the workplace.’ Therefore, you must have a mechanism to give the family a priority in society, allowing for the focus of our society to be on the development and growth of the next generation. Having moms and dads share in the formative years of their children’s growth will go a long way in reducing many of the psycho-social ills of our society.”
Paid Family Leave in New York: A Bit of History
It’s been 50 years since Cammarata received the first paternity leave in the United States. He was a teacher with the NYC Board of Education at the time. With then-Congressman Gary Ackerman pressuring the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commissioner (FEEOC), the FEEOC changed its ruling and gave fathers the same leave rights as mothers.
“As historically significant as my first paternity leave was, due to the efforts of Congressman Ackerman, our country on this Father’s Day is still divided,” Cammarata explained. “For example, parents in states where there is paid family leave legislation — New York, Virginia, California, New Hampshire, and a handful of others — families are supported and honored. Families in all of our 50 states deserve to be supported and honored through federal legislation, not just in the 11 states that currently do so.”
Cammarata himself has an impressive background. He represented Staten Island as the appointee of former borough president, Guy Molinari on the NYC Central Board of Education. Former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani appointed him to be his commissioner of the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development. And former Mayor Mike Bloomberg made him the associate executive director of Coney Hospital.
This Father’s Day, like all Father’s Days, Cammarata is thankful and celebrating. As a dad, the holiday is a time to reflect on what has been accomplished so far when it comes to family leave in New York and beyond. He says the country must take another hard look at finally getting a national family policy.
“There should be another White House Conference on Families in 2024, thus encouraging legislation to provide all parents in our country the right to have paid family leave,” he said. “This is an opportunity for America to enable not only companies with 50 or more employees with this right, but every company for all employees.”
Cammarata has a Ph.D. and is the author of “The Fun Book of Fatherhood,” which talks about being a paternity leave dad and raising kids.
To learn more about paid family leave in New York, visit paidfamilyleave.ny.gov.
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