While some employers provide unpaid leave with protection of job positions, others are not so fortunate. Women in Chicago have a range of experiences with security during their maternity leave due to employers not having consistent policies.
For jobs who do not provide pay during the leave there are limited resources for mothers during their pregnancy. Unemployment and disability programs are not unique financial aids for maternity, but these are the resources that women like Sharon Bautista and Christina Kelley had to resort to.
Christina Kelley, a part time bartender and music teacher, began her maternity leave at the beginning of November. She expresses her concerns for money, “I’m used to working seven days a week… I think I have enough saved up for three months off if I really needed to.” She mentions that her job as a music teacher is in a small local business, but she feels more secure because her manager is willing to financially assist her during her leave. In comparison to the corporate restaurant that she also works for, where she is still waiting to hear back if she is able to apply for unemployment benefits during her maternity leave. Kelley does not see herself coming back to this employer because she expects to return at “the bottom of the totem pole.” This is a valid fear for women who are going on maternity leave.
Sharon Bautista, who had her maternity leave while working in a law office, did not receive any security or support from her employer. Before the company was aware of her pregnancy Bautista had received a promotion as a supervisor. When she was preparing to go on her unpaid pregnancy leave she had to train someone for her position. When she came back into work she was demoted, “H.R. pulled me into the office and said that the person that I trained is taking my position as supervisor and I was going to be moved.” After Bautista’s unpaid maternity leave the company demoted her which resulted in decreased pay. When asked what changes these women would like to see for maternity leave for the future, Baustista says, “more time off allowed, resources, Human Resources at your job, more leniency.”
In contrast to Shanon Bautista, Coronel, who works as a union electrician, had a maternity leave during COVID. Coronel was already 3 months pregnant in March 2020 when Illinois began shutting down due to the pandemic. She described the pandemic working in her favor as she couldn’t go to work anyway. Coronel said that when she called her job to tell them she was pregnant they told her they would need to call her back because they didn’t want to say anything that could get them in trouble. “It’s kind of a man’s job. I think it was the first time in the company where somebody got pregnant, so they were walking on eggshells trying not to offend me.” Although Coronel did not apply for any financial resources through her company, she did receive $12,000 during her eight month period of maternity leave.