After his first child was stillborn, a New York City transit worker was denied his paid paternity leave
It’s impossible to adequately capture the heartache of losing a child. It’s a grief subway operator Reinaldo Lopez knows intimately now — in early February, his wife gave birth to a stillborn son. In an instant, he went from being an excited first-time father to one struggling to accept the reality of his loss. And he would soon come to face even more unimaginable sadness of circumstance when his employer, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) refused Lopez’s request for two weeks of paid paternity leave.
Instead of using that time to grieve his firstborn child, Lopez was expected to return to work only three days after the tragedy. “I wasn’t ready to go back to work. Bills need to be paid, but mentally it’s too recent,” he told the New York Daily News. “You’re operating a train through tracks that sometimes are being worked on, there’s people there trying to flag you down. A lot of crazy stuff can happen when your mind is not where it’s supposed to be operating a train.”
This seems like sound logic to us. But then again, so does giving a father a marginal window of time to grieve a devastating loss and comfort his wife. Aware of his own limitations and his family’s needs, Lopez did his research. Per New York state law and the MTA’s new contract with his union, Transport Workers Union Local 100, he should receive two weeks of paid paternity leave.
“We were reading up on the transit rules and all it says about paternal leave is that you just need to have a birth. Nowhere in the literature does it state that you will not be entitled to paternity leave if the baby is stillborn,” said Lopez, who heartbreakingly recounted that there very much was a birth in their case.
In late January, at eight months pregnant, Lopez’s wife Elyse Ortiz stopped feeling her baby kick. By Feb. 1, it was determined their baby no longer had a heartbeat and she had to deliver the child — whom they named Sylas — naturally. “We were devastated,” he said. “You feel like you should get some kind of reward from putting all that effort into a natural birth, which is holding your baby and hearing them cry.”
So, what does the MTA have to say about its decision? According to the Daily News, MTA gave Lopez the standard time off for workers who experience a death in the family: three days. The company also says that it ratified a new contract with Local 100 last month, but the two weeks of paid family leave is reportedly still being negotiated.
MTA spokesman Tim Minton expressed sympathy for Lopez’s loss, going on to say, “The MTA is a compassionate employer that encourages employees to take advantage of the many programs we have for employees who are going through difficult situations.”
They don’t actually detail what those programs are, so it’s hard to pass judgment on whether they make up for the fact that Lopez’s family leave has effectively been revoked. However, it’s important to note that studies have shown fathers who experience stillbirth often experience marked psychological struggles, including anxiety, depression, and even post-traumatic stress disorder.