Labor Family News - Fall 2004

Flexible Work Options in Britain
Message from the Executive Director, Netsy Firestein
California's Paid Leave Benefit:
Study Shows Broad Support But Lack of Knowledge

Global Working Families – How the U.S. Compares
Child Care at Union Meetings?


Britain’s Transport and General Workers’ Union (T&G) worked with Tucker Fasteners to introduce a flex-time work schedule for its 460 employees. The goal was to give employees more control over work hours. A pilot scheme was introduced that met both employee and employer needs. T&G members use a swipe card to record their time on the job and may not accumulate overtime hours, except in special circumstances. Employees must work the core hours of 9:30-3:30 but other hours are flexible. The pilot project was so popular that it was later widened to cover all permanent staff. The T&G is the biggest British union with over 900,000 members in a variety of industries. (Transport & General Workers’ Union & Tucker Fasteners)

Staff at the California Labor Federation recently won contract language that entitles them to full pay when taking up to six weeks leave under California’s new paid family leave law. Employees eligible for paid leave receive up to 55% of their salary through the State Disability Insurance (SDI) program and the rest from the employer. Staff members who aren’t eligible for paid family leave will receive three weeks of paid parental leave. Employees receive job protection while on paid leave.

Employees of one year or more may take up to 12 months of unpaid child-rearing leave without loss of seniority. The employee receives job protection and, upon returning to work, any pay increases given to his/her classification during the leave. (The Newspaper Guild Local 39521, CWA & California Labor Federation)

CWA members at a number of Verizon facilities have contract language that establishes a four-day schedule as a normal workweek for certain work units. The hours normally worked over 5 days can be equally scheduled over 4 days. The union works with management to establish the parameters and implementation procedures for any four-day workweek schedules. (Communication Workers of America & Verizon North)

Britain’s General Union (GMB) and Playtex, the underwear manufacturer, conducted a survey on various flextime options for the 450 hourly employees and 150 office staff. The survey showed that workers would prefer a 4-day week option and an early start time. A pilot project was created with GMB members working a 38.5-hour week over four days. The new flextime schedule, giving workers a 3-day weekend was very popular and was made permanent. (Britain’s General Union & Playtex)

The Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, AFT successfully negotiated a Job Sharing Program with the local school district. Designed to hire and maintain qualified teachers, the program is available to teachers including those returning from maternity, adoption or family leave, anticipating retirement within a year, or teachers wanting a temporary part-time position for medical reasons. Current salary and benefits are pro-rated. Participants are responsible for finding their own job share partner. (Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association, AFT & School District of Hillsborough County)

British Unions Take the Lead on Flexible Work Schedules
By Nikki Dones and Jo Morris

In 1998, when the people of Bristol asked local libraries to open on Sunday, Bristol City Council decided to reform its outdated flextime system. The Trades Union Congress (TUC), the British equivalent of the AFL-CIO, and the Employers’ Organization worked alongside the Council and local unions to help develop a new library system that met everyone’s needs. A staff survey showed workers were interested in trying different work hours for a variety of reasons including more family time and pursuing further education. A pilot project was introduced allowing libraries to open 7 days a week, with changes in working hours being voluntary. Many part-time staff volunteered to work Sundays for additional hours and full-time staff that volunteered to work Sundays had the ability to change their minds.

The libraries’ flexible work scheme was so popular with staff that other city departments, including pest control and refuse collection, asked to work on self-managed flexible shifts. Services also stayed open to the public for longer hours, while workers had the option of starting early or leaving late without increasing their work hours.

The flexible work options like those in Bristol, have become an integral part of the TUC’s drive to create a better work-life balance for its members. At the same time, all British workers have made it a top demand in the workplace. Creating a work-life balance is not simple. British research shows that any imposed change, with little say from staff and their unions about working hours, is likely to result in an unproductive and unhappy workforce. Therefore, fundamental to the TUC’s commitment is the insistence that any changes to work hours be voluntary and that implementation be done through consensus-building – or social partnership - between employer and unions. The TUC pushed for workers to get more choice and control over working hours, while the needs of business were being met.

The TUC developed the Changing Times process (see resources) to help implement positive workplace flexibility. The process includes surveys, guidance for conducting focus groups, training materials for managers and staff, and different flextime options. The TUC has worked with a number of unions to organize working time in a way that meets the needs of the business and staff. According to John Monks, then TUC General Secretary (now European TUC Secretary –General), “Employees want flexibility to balance their lives and do their jobs well; employers want flexibility in order to compete and provide better services.”

A 2002 study, The Nature and Pattern of Family-Friendly Employment Polices in Britain, showed family-friendly companies to be more successful in the new global economy (see below*). Rather than increased responsibilities, longer work hours, and lower wages being the keys to higher profits, 9 out of 10 workplaces with family-friendly policies like job sharing, flextime and telecommuting, showed positive effects on financial performance and labor productivity. The study found that flexible working arrangements were more common in unionized workplaces and that unions have been instrumental in developing these, and other solutions, to balancing work and family.

Since 2003, parents of young children in Britain have had the legal right to work flexible and/or part-time hours and, while the right has some limitations, it has become increasingly popular. Where union collective agreements ensure that part-time workers do not lose out on benefits or pay, flexible working has become popular with young parents, caregivers, older workers and individuals wanting to further their education.

Work-life balance has become an important recruitment and retention tool in Britain. It leads unions and employers to work together organizing working time in a way that suits the needs of staff and business. Where there is a genuine partnership approach everyone can benefit and the workplace can begin to reflect the real lives of working families.

*Access the study online at

Jo Morris is the Senior Equality and Employment Rights Officer at the TUC.

Message from the Executive Director, Netsy Firestein

Being a small, non-profit based in California, but working on national issues has always been a challenge for us. In June, we formed the National Advisory Board of the Labor Project, made up of dynamic and innovative union leaders who have a deep commitment to labor’s leadership on work and family issues. We are very excited about the potential of the Advisory Board who will help us advocate for work and family issues at the national level. Some of the Board’s initial focus will be to assist in the development of a work/family curriculum for labor educators; update materials on bargaining for work and family; and promote work/family policies within their unions at the state and national levels.
National Advisory Board members:
Kathleen A. Casavant, Massachusetts AFL-CIO
Patti Devlin, Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA)
Irasema Garza, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME)
Mary G. Hardiman, International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT)
Carol Joyner, 1199SEIU/Employer Child Care Fund
Deborah King, New York Union Child Care Committee
Karen Nussbaum, AFL-CIO
Chris Owens, AFL-CIO
Sharon Stiller, United Steelworkers of America (USWA)
Karla Swift, United Automobile, Aerospace & Agricultural Implement Workers of America (UAW)

California's Paid Leave Benefit:
Study Shows Broad Support But Lack of Knowledge

New data from two recent state surveys shows that Californians are overwhelmingly supportive of the idea of paid family leave, but that relatively few are aware of the new state law that took effect on July 1, 2004. [The new California law provides 6 weeks of paid family leave, at 55% of the worker’s normal salary, to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member. The benefit is paid through the State Disability Insurance Program.] Only about one in five (22%) respondents indicated that they were familiar with the new law in a fall 2003 survey of California adults. Awareness was especially low among the groups that are least likely to have access to employer-sponsored paid time off – women, low-wage workers, immigrants, and disadvantaged racial-ethnic groups. A forthcoming article by Ruth Milkman (UCLA) and Eileen Appelbaum (Rutgers University) in The State of California Labor 2004, published by the University of California’s Institute for Labor and Employment, analyzes the new data on paid family leave.

The survey data Milkman and Appelbaum analyze also provide insight into the ways in which, prior to the implementation of the new law, employers and employees in the state handled the kinds of events that the paid family leave program now covers. Many Californians have taken family leaves in the past. The article reports that many employers in the state – especially large employers; those that are unionized; and those with a relatively large proportion of professional, managerial and technical employees – already provided family and medical leave benefits beyond those required by law before the establishment of the state’s new program.

Milkman and Appelbaum also suggest that employers – especially those that previously provided benefits that could be used to support paid leave – may be the major conduits for information about the new program. Some employers actually reap cost savings by coordinating the benefits that are now available from the state with those that they themselves provide.

The new state law was intended to extend access to paid family leave to all workers, especially those who previously lacked access to wage replacement for bonding with a new child or to care for a seriously ill family member. But if awareness of it does not extend well beyond those workers whose employers have long provided paid time off, the new law will have little effect on ameliorating the disparity between workers who previously had access to paid leaves (via employer-sponsored benefits) and those who lacked such access.

For the text of the Milkman/Appelbaum article, visit

U.S. Lags Far Behind in Policies That Allow Workers to Care for Children and Family Members

A report by the Project on Global Working Families found the United States lagging behind other countries in many areas including leave policies and services for children. The Project is devoted to understanding and improving the relationship between working conditions and family health and well-being internationally. Below are some highlights from the report regarding the U. S.’ performance.

Does the U. S. Measure Up?

When it comes to the right to work, the U. S. is well-situated in the company of many other countries that ensure the equitable right to work across racial and ethnic groups, for men and women, regardless of age or disability. However, when it comes to ensuring decent working conditions, the U.S. is far behind in many areas. This is particularly true when one examines the working conditions that are needed to care for children and other family members.

Areas where the U.S. lags behind:

Working Conditions

Services for Children Areas where the U.S. holds even: For a copy of the complete report, go to the website:

Child Care at Union Meetings? Family Friendly Conventions?
Union Involvement Becomes a Family Affair
By Jenya Cassidy

As active union members struggle to balance work, family and labor activism, unions are finding ways to make union events family friendly. When locals and internationals provide child care at meetings and create events for the whole family, their members no longer have to choose between spending time with their family and helping build the union.

The Labor Project is conducting an informal survey of unions who provide child care and/or have regular family events. Here are some examples of what unions are doing:

Please contact the Labor Project for Working Families with examples from your union. Call 510/642-5498 or e-mail Jenya Cassidy at


Changing Times: A TUC Guide to Work-Life Balance
This comprehensive publication provides details on the Trades Union Congress Changing Times process for bringing flexibility to the workplace. It includes tools for unions for bringing about change including how to team-build and plan projects, conduct a survey and focus groups, and establish learning centers. There are case studies as well as findings from a government survey on work-life balance.

Also sign up for the Changing Times E-newsletter! A free bi-monthly E-newsletter from the TUC that gives a summary of news, resources, and case studies on changing times at work in Britain and Europe.
Order both online at

Work/Family Conflict, Union Style: Labor Arbitrations Involving Family Care
A new study by the Program on WorkLife Law at American University's Washington College of Law looked at all published arbitrations and found 29 cases in which caregivers were severely punished for choosing family obligations over work when the two conflicted. The report offers specific steps that unions, employers and employees can take to reduce work-family conflict in unionized companies, and can be downloaded at
Unions that can provide access to their grievance records to the researchers to better understand the scope of the issues are urged to contact Mary Still at

Overtime Alert
On Sept. 9th, the House voted 223-193 in support of the Obey-Miller amendment to restore overtime protection for 6 million workers. This was the fifth time Congress has voted to stop the Administration from eliminating overtime for workers. At press time, the Senate Appropriations had just passed a similar overtime protection amendment by a vote of 16-13, and identical language is now in both the House and Senate bills. Now the main obstacle to enacting this legislation is opposition from the White House, which has issued a veto threat.

In addition to new regulations that take away overtime from 6 million workers, President Bush has also proposed legislation that would diminish overtime rights for those workers who are still eligible for overtime. The Bush proposal for "comp time" would allow employers to pay workers nothing for overtime work if they later give those workers time off, with employers having discretion over when workers take the time off. Comp time would encourage employers to demand even more overtime hours and leave working families with LESS control over their work hours.

To take action on these issues, visit
For more information, contact Rachna Choudhry at the AFL-CIO,

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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