Labor Family News - Fall 2002

California Labor: The Folks that Brought You Paid Family Leave

Does Your Health Insurance Plan Discriminate Against Women?


Know Your Rights Brochures

Barganing for Work and Family Fact Sheets

Family Fact Sheet Series


I’m sitting on a plane returning home from attending the signing by California Governor Davis of the most comprehensive paid family leave legislation in the country. The new law, which takes effect in 2004, provides up to 6 weeks a year of partially paid leave to care for a new baby or newly adopted child, or to care for a seriously ill child, parent, spouse or domestic partner.

Two years ago we started working with the California Labor Federation, which represents over 1300 labor unions and 2.1 million union members, on paid family leave. We started organizing and educating union members, advocacy organizations and other allies for a paid family leave campaign. In Winter 2002 the California Labor Federation sponsored legislation, authored by State Senator Sheila Kuehl, for paid family leave through the State Disability Insurance system.

What the Law Provides

As originally drafted, the bill provided for 12 weeks of pay and the cost was to be split between employers and employees. Because of heavy lobbying and opposition by the business community, the bill was altered to its present form. However the Chamber of Commerce continued to oppose the bill vociferously. The bill was also amended to say that employers could require a worker to use 2 weeks of accrued vacation time before taking the 6 weeks of SDI leave.

The Labor Project, with funding from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation and the Rosenberg Foundation, played a crucial role in the campaign by helping to organize and coordinate a statewide coalition of unions and organizations representing seniors, women, child care, children, health issues, legal advocates and others. The grants also funded research by UC Berkeley economists on the costs and benefits of a paid family leave program in California.

We are all excited by this victory and energized by the crucial support of union members, advocates, business leaders, academics and others who let their voices be heard in a thousand ways over the past few months. We hope to continue to work with the California coalition (Share the Care) on work and family issues as well as assist other states on efforts to win paid family leave.

Netsy Firestein
Editor and Executive Director
(Editor’s Note: To report on this extraordinary work/family victory and our role in it, we have suspended our normal format covering UNION NEWS for this issue.)

Does Your Health Insurance Plan Discriminate Against Women?

When a United Food and Commercial Workers’ union local in Alabama asked a uniform supply company for contraceptive coverage for its hundreds of employees, the employer initially said no. When union members took a closer look at their health plan, they realized that Viagra, the male impotence drug, was covered, while female contraceptives were not. “If a health plan can pay to crank it up, it better pay for the consequences,” the negotiator announced. Subsequently, contraceptive coverage was added to the contract.

Although this story instantly gets the reader’s attention, the bottom line is it’s against the law for an employer to not provide comprehensive contraceptive coverage in their health plans if their health plans cover drugs and devices used to prevent the occurrence of other medical conditions.

Two recent legal decisions declare that it is sex discrimination to not cover it. A federal district court decision last summer and an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decision in December 2000 both ruled that not covering contraception, when other preventive drugs and devices are covered, violates Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Many health care plans, including those that cover union members, don’t include contraceptive equity. Most plans do, however, cover abortion and permanent sterilization. The reason for this discrepancy seems to be that abortion and permanent sterilization are “surgical,” while reversible contraceptive methods fall into the category of “preventive” and haven’t been routinely covered.

Neither the federal government nor the 20 states that have state contraceptive mandates proactively enforce the mandates. Thus, contraceptive equity can only be achieved if health plan participants take action. For the 13 million people who belong to unions in the U.S. (eighty-five percent of them have health care coverage through their union contract), their union is in a key position to secure this coverage. It is up to union members, however, to take the lead in bringing it to their attention and persuading them to take action.

The Coalition of Labor Union Women, an AFL-CIO support group, has vigorously promoted contraceptive equity since 1997 and in the spring of 2001 established the Contraceptive Equity Project to advocate for comprehensive contraceptive coverage in all union health plans. The Project is actively working to promote awareness of the issue -- especially the lack of coverage in union plans – and to urge union members to check their own plans and use the tools that CLUW has put together to secure coverage if it doesn’t currently exist.

CLUW and the Project played a major role in getting the AFL-CIO to endorse contraceptive equity at its national convention last December. The resolution not only urges all union-negotiated health care plans to cover contraceptive equity, but it also calls for passage of a national law -- the Equity in Prescription Coverage and Contraceptive Coverage Act (EPICC, S. 104), which would make insurers liable It also calls for inclusion of Emergency Contraceptive Coverage (the “morning-after” pill) in all plans. AFL-CIO resolutions are not binding on affiliate unions, but their policy on the issue encourages unions to follow through.

Passage of the AFL’s contraceptive equity resolution provided a natural communications link for CLUW to the state federations. As a result, a number of the federations have taken steps to educate their affiliates on the issue. These include Washington, Arizona, North Carolina, Maine, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio with the most outstanding work being done by the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, which is an active member of the state’s contraceptive equity coalition.

The Project’s first major success in achieving coverage took place the week before Christmas 2001 when SEIU Local 32BJ health benefits fund, covering 70,000 building service workers in New York, announced contraceptive coverage to its members. The union trustees succeeded in pursuing the issue with management trustees. Two victories in June of this year include coverage for the 4,000 members at Temple University and nationwide coverage for UAW members at Daimler/Chrysler (and the likelihood that the other two of the Big Three will soon follow). The fact that it took only 7 ½ weeks for the overwhelming majority of health plans to cover Viagra is instructive. CLUW believes that once contraceptive equity is on an employer’s radar screen, it can be included as quickly!

But, that won’t happen without union members checking to see if they have this coverage and if they don’t -- make it an issue. Union members must know the facts, as well as the legal decisions and use both to gain contraceptive equity. For the Contraceptive Equity Project “toolkit” and more information, go to the CLUW website at: If you have any questions, contact Carolyn Jacobson, Contraceptive Equity Project Director, at 202-223-8360, ext. 4 or CLUW wants to know of successes so it can add local unions to the Contraceptive Equity Role of Honor that will appear on the website. (This article was written by Carolyn Jacobson, Contraceptive Equity Project Director)


Know Your Rights Brochures, Equal Rights Advocates. ERA has produced a series of brochures on Sex Discrimination, Family and Medical Leave/Pregnancy Discrimination, Sexual Harassment in the Workplace, Temporary Workers and Discrimination, Private Household Workers’ Rights in California. The brochures include basic information and resources. Some are available in Spanish. All are free up to 10 copies of each brochure. Additional copies are $.25 per brochure for non-profits and $.75 per brochure for others.
To order, go to:, or fax orders to: 415-621-6744.

Labor Project Resources

Bargaining for Work and Family Fact Sheets. Child Care, Family Leave, Elder Care, Control Over Work Hours, Bargaining Questions on Work and Family.

Family Fact Sheet Series on family friendly laws in California including: Family and Medical Leave Act, Family-School Partnership Act, Overtime/Alternative Work Schedules, Sick Leave for Family Care, Pregnancy Disability Leave. Available in English, Spanish and Chinese.

Both available free. Call us at (510) 643-7088, download from or email:

Work and Family Bill of Rights. Available at:

Family Leave Resources
Report on Costs and Benefits of Paid Family Leave
Basic facts on paid family leave
Information about the bill
Supporters of the bill Click on “Share the Care”
For more information, contact Greer McVay, Coalition Coordinator at 510-643-5863.

Labor Family News is published quarterly by:

Labor Project for Working Families
2521 Channing Way #5555
Berkeley, CA 94720
Ph: 510-643-7088
Fax: 510-642-6432

Netsy Firestein

Jenya Cassidy
Managing Editor

Reprints Permitted With Acknowledgement. Call us for an email version.

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