Labor Family News - Fall 2003

University Employees Get Right To Grieve Work Hours
Casino Workers Win Family Contract
Unions Helping Unions With Respite Care
Message from Executive Director Netsy Firestein
How to Start a Child Care Fund
New Report on Union Arbitrations and Family Caregiving
Unemployment Dicriminates Against Women and Families


Service Employees International Union Local 790 negotiated a great Voluntary Time Off (VTO) Program with the San Francisco Housing Authority. Employees can take time off in increments as little as one hour with a maximum of 480 hours, or 60 8-hour days, per fiscal year. Wages will be reduced for time off in the employee’s next paycheck following the start of the leave. Participants in the VTO Program remain covered by medical, dental and life insurance and continue to accrue sick leave and vacation benefits as normal. There is no requirement to use any accumulated vacation or sick leave. (SEIU Local 790 and SF Housing Authority)

The United Auto Workers (UAW) negotiated a first contract with Bright Horizons Inc, that covers any current child care center through the UAW Family Service and Learning Center (FSLC), provided the majority of staff desire union representation. Any future FSLC center that chooses UAW representation will also be covered by the same contract, which includes paid bereavement leave, 12 weeks of unpaid personal leave after 90 days employment, up to 6 months of unpaid medical leave per year and coverage under FMLA. Employees may request up to 8 hours of paid leave a year for school participation activities. Employees receive health, dental and vision insurance. Part-time employees have 50% of the health care premium covered by the employer. A resource and referral program, available on-site and by phone, will be established to assist with employee dependent care issues. (UAW International Union and Bright Horizons Children Centers, Inc.)

In a great strategic move, the Coalition of University Employees (CUE) won the ability to grieve unreasonable denials of employee requests for flexible working hours, shift assignments, and alternative work schedules. The provision was originally denied during contract negotiations but was still considered an important provision by CUE because of the inconsistent process by which individuals were either approved or denied requests for changes in work hours. CUE saw the opportunity to raise the issue again when the University approached the union to include its 18,000 members in the employee pool for negotiations with a healthcare provider. CUE members were included in the healthcare negotiations and the union got the ability to grieve unreasonable denials of changes in work hours. (CUE and the University of California)

The Detroit Union Casino Council’s contracts with both the MotorCity Casino and the MGM Grand Detroit contain impressive family-friendly provisions for a first contract. Provisions include a weekly child care subsidy of $35 for children under 13, unpaid child rearing leave of up to 26 weeks taken within one year of the birth or adoption and unpaid family leave of up to 26 weeks for the death or illness of a family member. The employers are also required to conduct a Work-Life needs assessment survey of their employees. (Detroit Union Casino Council and MotorCity Casino & MGM Grand Detroit)

Respite Care: Union Members Form Partnership to Help Each Other
by Nikki Dones

As more Americans become responsible for the care of an elderly family member, it is not unusual for full-time workers to spend 20 hours or more a week with an elderly or disabled dependent, whether providing direct care or finding quality care. In California, two unions have formed a unique partnership to address this challenge.

Through Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 192’s negotiated Family Care Plan, eligible Oakland transit workers with elderly dependents can receive one day of respite care per year for their dependent. The respite care provider is a member of SEIU Local 616’s Home Care Chapter.

The benefit is provided through the Family Care Plan, which is funded by monies negotiated in 2000 to address the child and elder care issues of ATU Local 192 members. The employer, AC Transit, contributes 3 cents per hour for every hour worked by an ATU member into the fund that sponsors the benefits offered under the Family Care Plan. Launched in August, the Plan also provides a subsidy for 8 hours of back up child care when regular care falls through, partial subsidies for summer child care programs and an SAT college preparation course. There is also a series of workshops for ATU members on issues such as summer job preparedness for teenagers, choosing quality child care, dependent and elder care options in the community and how to care for family dependents.

“We're very excited about the joint partnership Respite Care program with ATU Local 192. The program provides extra work for our Home Care members who rarely work a forty hour week” states Fran Jefferson, Executive Director of SEIU Local 616. The services offered through the Respite Care Program, include personal care, such as bathing and dressing, preparation of meals, companionship and some light domestic work, such as sweeping and dusting. The homecare worker will also be available to accompany the dependent to any scheduled medical appointments or to the grocery store.

For Oakland’s transit workers the Program is a great benefit. According to Christine Zook, President of ATU Local 192, “We have many members who are responsible for an elderly dependent or disabled adult. In an industry like ours, with varying shifts, there can often be conflict around care arrangements, picking up prescriptions, even spending time as a companion. With 8 hours of planned care, a transit worker can feel confident that day that his/her loved one is in the hands of a professional, union home care worker.”

Message From the Executive Director, Netsy Firestein

Welcome to Labor Family News! As you can see, we redesigned our newsletter and gave it a new name. We continue to emphasize work/family bargaining and legislative updates. We will provide information on how unions have won these benefits and other news related to labor and work/family issues. We hope to distribute the newsletter to more union locals, state labor federations, labor councils and work/family advocates. If you have suggestions for who should receive it, please contact us at or call (510) 643-7088.

In this issue of Labor Family News, we highlight an innovative program in which two California unions collaborate to benefit their members. The members of the bus drivers’ union, ATU Local 192 will now have access to respite care for their elderly dependents through the Homecare Chapter of SEIU Local 616. I love the idea of union members helping union members. We also cover a report on how union arbitrations can be a powerful tool to protect the rights of working families. We plan to help local unions do trainings on this issue – contact us if you are interested.

Finally, as this new issue of Labor Family News goes to press, I will be on a month’s paid leave awarded to me by our Board of Directors in honor of ten years of service to the Labor Project. The extra time off will allow me to spend time with family as well as take a long distance walking trip and have some time for reflection. More paid time off with family and for ourselves is something we should strive for as part of our work/family agenda.

How to Start a Child Care Fund in Your Union
By Jenya Cassidy and Nikki Dones

How do you work with members to start to address the issue of child care and its impact on the workplace? You may find that union members do not see child care as a union issue. But there is a growing movement among unions that are negotiating for help with child care needs and winning! Here are some steps to get started toward building a union child care fund.

1 -- Organize the membership around the issue of child care

Organize the membership to build support for this issue. If you know that finding and paying for child care is a challenge for your members, put it on the agenda of union meetings. Begin to establish that child care is a union issue. Have children at events, provide child care at union meetings, ask members share their stories and build support for a labor/management committee to look into union members’ child care needs.

2 -- Start a Labor/Management Committee to address child care needs

Negotiate for a labor/management committee to begin to look at the problems and challenges that members are facing in the workplace due to child care needs. Negotiate to get paid release time for the union representatives on the committee. Often this is the foot in the door that is needed and a sign that management and the union are willing to put resources toward the issue.

3 -- Conduct a needs assessment survey to identify members’ needs

Identify the members’ real needs. Negotiate a small sum to conduct a child care needs assessment of the members. This allows you to gather information on what the actual needs of the membership are - such as back-up child care, time off for sick children or after school care. You may also identify possible causes of workplace problems such as absenteeism or lateness. If there is no money to conduct a survey, there may be resources in the community such as a child care referral agency or a university labor center that can assist you.

4. – Identify no-cost resources that can be made available to members

The committee can identify no-cost resources such as inviting the local Resource and Referral agency to make a presentation to members about local child care options. This is one way of bringing the issue out into the open and identifying members who are interested in the issue

5– Use the data from the needs assessment survey in negotiating the next contract

The information from the survey helps you to target what to demand in negotiations. If your membership has mostly school age children, your demands may focus on funds for after school programs. Be ready to back up what you are asking for with the data from the survey. Prepare the membership to back up the bargaining team.

6– Look for a fund that is under-utilized and see if it can be diverted

See if you can tap into a negotiated fund that is under-utilized. A good example of this is HERE Local 2 in San Francisco’s Child & Elder Care Fund. The union had a legal fund that was under-utilized by members. For every hour a Local 2 member worked 5 cents was put into the fund by the employer. The union negotiated that the 5 cents would be diverted into a child and elder care fund beginning in 1994. Now the money has increased and Local 2 members receive a subsidy for child care and elder care costs.

7– Build a support network with other unions

Find out what other unions have negotiated or are working towards. See if there are ways you can cooperate and support each other’s efforts. Develop a consortium with other unions to pool resources for more child care in the community. (Call the Labor Project for examples). Be sure to publicize your successes and share your stories with other unions. The more of us who win these benefits, the better for everyone!

For more information, call us at (510) 643-7088 or

New Report on Union Arbitrations and Family Caregiving
By Joan Williams and Danielle Hayot, Program on Gender, Work & Family, American University Law School

Thomas Fell had been an auto parts employee at a car dealership for 5 years and active in union organizing. In February 1998, Mr. Fell received a call from his son asking to pick him up at school. The boy was afraid of being left alone because gunfire had shattered several windows at the school the week before. Mr. Fell left work 15 minutes early to pick up his son. When he called his supervisor that evening, he was told not to worry, that “family is number one.” The following day, Mr. Fell was fired.

Both men and women face difficult challenges in taking care of their families in a work environment that is often insensitive to family caregiving issues. A “family-hostile environment” makes parents vulnerable in ways that interfere both with organizing efforts and the rights of union members. Some union contracts have specific language that allows workers to reconcile their work and family responsibilities. Most, however, do not. They are forced to rely on more general contract language such as the common requirement of "just cause" for discipline and discharge. In such cases, the parties often are unable to agree on whether employer requirements that conflict with caregiving responsibilities violate the contract and they call upon an arbitrator to resolve their dispute.

The good news is that the outcome of the arbitration is in many ways dependent on factors which employees and unions can control. The Program on Gender, Work & Family at American University Law School has a new report advising workers and unions on how to successfully manage such grievances. For example, the grievant’s success depends in part on how the arbitrator interprets the just-cause provisions of the collective bargaining agreement. Without contract language specifically defining just-cause, arbitrators are often left to apply their own interpretations. However, employees and unions can play a large part in ensuring that fairness does in fact prevail by communicating the circumstances of the worker’s conflict as it is taking place. The union steward is often the first person to learn of a grievance and relay it to the employer. He or she has the power to bring to light mitigating factors that may have influenced the grievant’s behavior or that otherwise would weaken a showing of just-cause.

Thomas Fell lost his case in arbitration, in part because he failed to effectively communicate to the manager on-duty why he had to leave work early. This report seeks to pinpoint why workers like Fell have lost in arbitration as well as those strategies used by grievants who have managed to win in arbitration. For more information or for a copy of the report, please contact the Program on Gender, Work & Family at

Unemployment Discriminates Against Women and Families
By Jenya Cassidy

A new survey reveals the failure of state unemployment insurance programs to meet the needs of American women and their families. According to the report, conducted by The National Employment Law Project (NELP) and the Program on Gender, Work & Family at American University College of Law, men are more likely than women to receive unemployment insurance benefits in 41 states. As the authors explain, unemployment insurance usually relies on the out-dated notion of the “male breadwinner” even in a time when 60 % of women work outside of the home and, for many households, a female is the only breadwinner.

“States have failed to build unemployment systems that accommodate the needs of women and families,” said Rebecca Smith, staff attorney for NELP and co-author of the report. “Even though women now work to a greater extent than ever before, they receive unemployment benefits at a considerably lower rate than men. States need to include women and fix their unemployment systems by giving compensation to women who have to leave work due to family and other circumstances. According to the survey:

*30 states lack adequate provisions that recognize family reasons as “good cause” to leave a job.

*43 states do not pay UI benefits to part-time workers under the same rules as full time workers.

*Only 13 states have specific provisions that allow a woman to quit her job because of sexual or other personal harassment and receive UI benefits.

*Only a handful of states allow women who quit their jobs due to domestic violence to qualify for UI and even less provide extra UI benefits for dependents of the unemployed.

In order to change the UI system to serve the needs of today’s workforce, the report makes the following recommendations:

“Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Confronting the Failure of State Unemployment Insurance Systems to Serve Women and Working Families” is available online at the National Employment Law Project’s website at

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

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