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Wake-Up Call for GOP's "Values" Hypocrites: Unions Are Pro-Family, Report Finds
In These Times Blog, July 17, 2009

By Art Levine

While the latest escapades of such GOP "family values" as Sen. John Ensign and Gov. Mark Sanford continue to garner some headlines, a little-noticed new UC Berkeley study finds that unions-the GOP's nemesis-creates dramatically pro-family results for working families.

"As more Americans struggle to raise and care for their families at the same time they're holding down a job, workplace policies that facilitate a work-family balance are becoming increasingly important. We looked at whether unions make a difference for these families, and it turns out that unionization has a positive impact on key family-friendly policies like family health insurance, paid family leave, and child-care benefits," said Jenifer MacGillvary of the UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education. MacGillvary co-authored the new report, titled "Family-Friendly Workplaces: Do Unions Make a Difference?"

The AFL-CIO Now blog notes the report's conclusion and key findings...

Many (perhaps most) American workers find their "work-life" to be out of balance. Yet as has been the case with virtually all other aspects of employment, labor unions are leading the way in setting new standards. Unionized workers receive more generous family-friendly benefits than their nonunionized counterparts.

Here are a few of the report's key findings:

  • Unions promote compliance with the Family and Medical Leave Act. Union members are more likely to have heard of the Family and Medical Leave Act, have fewer worries about taking leave and are more likely to receive fully paid and partially paid leaves.
  • Comparing hourly workers who take family and medical leave, 46 percent of unionized workers receive full pay while on leave compared to 29 percent of nonunionized workers.
  • Unionized workers are 1.3 times as likely as nonunionized workers to be allowed to use their own sick time to care for a sick child, and they are 50 percent more likely than nonunionized workers to have paid personal leave that can be used to care for sick children.

In contrast, GOP offcials, with Ensign and Sanford following the well-worn path of former president George W. Bush, have emphasized fighting gay marriage, supporting prayer in schools and banning abortion as the keys to promoting family values.

So even as Ensign scrambles to explain away various payments to his mistress, it's worth remembering that he and other GOP leaders have built their party's fortunes on a few key pillars, including not just "pro-family" morality and, starting in the late 1960s, veiled racism, but also, in recent years, union-bashing.

They've especially demonized the Employee Free Choice Act. In fact, Ensign, the then-chairman of the Republican National Senatorial Campaign Committee, told the Las Vegas Sun before last year's election:

It's our No. 1 issue to raise money on, Ensign said last week. It scares anybody who's in business to death.

Indeed, Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson told The Wall Street Journa the union-backed bill was 'one of the two fundamental threats to society.' (The other, he said, was radical Islam.)

These days, such fear-mongering over unions rings as hollow as the Republican calls to uphold family values. An AFL-CIO source tells In These Times: "As Republicans and big business use meaningless attacks against legislation like the Employee Free Choice Act, it's important to remember that to working families, family values means having a good-paying job that allows for time with family. There's nothing more hypocritical than not supporting working people's freedom to form unions in order to bargain for a better life and more time with their families-while trumpeting the meaning of 'family values'."

Indeed, the co-authors of the new report found that unions aided working families on a wide range of family-friendly policies, including expanded health insurance that covers all family members. As the AFL-CIO Now blog reported, "MacGillvary and Firestein also note union members are more likely to have access to resources like child-care referrals, education assistance, vacation days and wellness programs."

Union leaders underscored the importance of the report's finding as grassroots political pressure builds on the Senate to pass the Employee Free Choice Act.

Here's what AFL-CIO President John Sweeney had to say about the new report:

This report emphasizes a crucial point-that unions help families at a time when workers are forced to work more hours in an increasingly unstable environment, and as the social system in our country is being chipped away.

A unionized workplace dramatically helps working families. As corporations force working people to work longer and spend more time away from their home, unions are key to creating an economy that works for everyone and ensuring that workers have flexibility in handling their family and work responsibilities. Corporations have spent billions to try to eliminate benefits like paid sick leave, time off, and health care coverage. Without workers' freedom to form and join unions, corporations will continue to chip away at the family-friendly practices that help working people across the country.

And SEIU Secretary-Treasurer Anna Burger summed up what real family values mean at a time when the Republicans Party that built its brand on "values" continue to implode: "Today's report underscores that, at a time when many greedy corporations are cruelly cutting wages, healthcare and retirement security, unionized workplaces continue to promote family-friendly policies that build a strong middle-class," Burger said. In contrast, it seems sometimes that the only "family" the GOP is helping with its mix of anti-union and pro-Christianity extremism is the elite, unfettered free-market Christian cult group, "The Family."

Its Washington, D.C. "C Street" residence and church has involved, either directly or indirectly, both Governor Sanford and Senator Ensign. Rachel Maddow has looked at the issue recently, highlighting the journalism of author Jeff Sharlet, who secretly infiltrated The Family to write a book about them. Maddow has observed:

Embattled Nevada Senator John Ensign lives at the C Street house. The husband of Senator Ensign's mistress says that prominent members of the Family-this religious group-including the sons of the group's founder, as well as other members of Congress who live at C Street-were both aware of Ensign's secret affair and were involved in his efforts to pay off the mistress and her family as the affair was on again-off again ending.

Republican Senator Tom Coburn lives at C Street with Ensign. He has said he encouraged Ensign to end the affair but he has denied the allegation that he specifically encouraged Senator Ensign to pay the mistress off to the tune of millions of dollars.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford mentioned C Street by name in his long public statement of regret about his affair with a woman in Argentina.

That's the real state of Republican family values today. The new report shows where the emphasis on family values actually needs to be:

Family-friendly workplace policies are more important than ever before because more families are jugging work and care-giving responsibilities. For example, nearly 25 percent of U.S. households provide care to people aged 50 or older; and 75 percent of children live in families where all parents work.

As Congress prepares to debate the Employee Free Choice Act in coming months, policy makers should understand that unions have helped improve workplace policies for thousands of working families and could do the same things for millions of families if the Employee Free Choice Act becomes the law of the land, said report co-author Netsy Firestein, executive director of the nonprofit Labor Project For Working Families.

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