Surrounded by family and friends, PROTEC17 member Rachel Alder and her wife Erin honored their daughter on May 13 – the day after Mother’s Day – as the City of Seattle proclaimed it Bea’s Day. The commemoration was more than a year in the making after the brief life of Bea prompted an advocacy campaign to improve the family leave policy for employees at the City who suffer the loss of a child.
Bea was born in November 2017 and lived just a short 36 hours. While the Alders were grieving their tragic loss, they learned via email that Rachel would only receive three bereavement leave days.
“It was surreal,” said Erin Alder. “Rachel was in the hospital, we were planning a funeral, and then we got this news. We just couldn’t process it.”
Luckily, Rachel had a very supportive supervisor and co-workers in the office of Aging and Disability Services in the Human Services Department at the City who generously donated leave so that the Alders could process their grief in their own time.
A few months later, one of Rachel’s co-workers, PROTEC17 Steward Sarah Barkman, reached out to Union Representative Shaun Van Eyk to see if there was something he could do, and it started the ball rolling. With the Alders support, Van Eyk began to contact Seattle City Councilmembers and the Mayor’s office to build support for expansion of the recent paid family leave policy.
“The family leave policy that we negotiated with the City in 2018 did not include provisions for the loss of a child or birthing partner,” said Van Eyk. “We thought it was really important to make this change so that other members would not have to go through what Rachel and her family went through.”
Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda and Lorena Gonzalez wholeheartedly agreed and played an integral role in pushing this issue forward. Mayor Jenny Durkan has been very supportive, too. The policy also has broad community-based support from organizations like NARAL and Planned Parenthood.
Despite their tragedy, the Alders thought it was important to be the voice for other employees who might not be able to find their own because of grief or stigma. Recently, they have connected with other bereavement leave advocates across the country and are hoping to help make broader, nation-wide improvements.
“We were really lucky,” said Erin. “We had a tremendous amount of support from family, friends and co-workers who stood by our side the whole time, and we had the resources to take the time we needed. But not everyone has that kind of support system.”
On June 5, Seattle City Council unanimously approved the expanded paid family care ordinance to include paid time off after the death of a child up to age 18, as well as if a partner dies from pregnancy-related complications. The ordinance will go into effect immediately.
Meanwhile, PROTEC17 and other members of the Coalition of City Unions are looking at additional language to the paid family leave policy in the contract, as negotiations for the next one are currently underway.
“We couldn’t have done any of this without PROTEC17,” said Rachel. “An active and supportive union helped us have a voice, get in the room with the right people, and push for change.”
Some of the Alders many supporters gathered with them at Seattle City Hall on Bea’s Day, including Rachel’s dad, who flew in from Nashville, her aunt from Pasco, co-workers from HSD, as well as Erin’s family and co-workers, and PROTEC17’s Van Eyk. Even representatives from Human Resources at Erin’s company came to show their support and to learn about what the progressive, family-friendly policy might look like.
“Bea’s Day was really special,” Rachel said. “It was the perfect way to honor our little fighter, surrounded by so many of our loved ones.”
“It’s been very healing to share our story and to honor Bea’s memory by improving the family care policy for other employees who are grieving the loss of a child,” she continued.
The Alders are expecting another baby any day now – Rachel is due at the end of June. Everyone at PROTEC17 wishes the Alders all the best!