Labor Family News - Fall 2006

Take Back the Clock: Flextime
Unions Win it!

"Maternal Profiling?"
Job bias and bad policy push U.S. working women to join the new Motherhood Movement


After being grilled about her children and marital status at job interview after job interview, Kiki finally asked what these queries had to do with the work. Simple, answered the interviewer, a Pennsylvania attorney. "If you have kids but no husband, I pay less per hour because I have to pay benefits for the entire family." Was this discrimination legal? Sure, he said-and the state Human Rights Commission agreed. If Kiki didn't like it, she would just have to change the law...

Motherhood Manifesto

Clearly, Kiki is not alone. She's one of a growing number of mothers in the U.S. fed up with making less money than men and having no access to maternity leave, quality child care or health benefits for their kids. 

Kiki is also not alone in deciding to do something about it. Joan Blades and Kristen Rowe-Finkbeiner decided to write The Motherhood Manifesto for moms like Kiki and themselves-women ready to fight back in effective, media-savvy style.

The book became a film, for example. And the Manifesto has spawned, a web site boasting the latest in issue campaign tools.

MoveOn for mothers is like MoveOn for mothers, a virtual gathering place where political action and, eventually, policy change can begin. And the activist model is all in the family. Motherhood Manifesto co-author Joan Blades is co-founder of, a progressive organizing powerhouse. 

"The web site is a way to get people who care about things like being able to stay home longer after a baby is born, the high price of child care, or organizing around health benefits, all in the same room," says Blades.

The film, too, is designed as a provocative organizing tool. Shown to test audiences, the film has already drawn volunteers to help Kiki pass an anti-wage discrimination law in Pennsylvania.  

"It is time for a mothers' movement," says Kirstin Rowe-Finkbeiner. "We know what the problems are. We need to come together to find solutions."

How to connect

The website offers something for everybody who's ready to challenge job bias and family-hostile policies on the state and federal level. First up? The web site's petition to Congress supporting paid leave for new parents. But there are lots of other ways to connect:
Sign up for action alerts

  1. Sign the petition demanding a media cease-fire in the so-called "mommy wars" that pit stay-at-home moms against working moms
  2. Explore every element of the Motherhood Manifesto
  3. Join an online discussion
  4. Order the Motherhood Manifesto book or video
  5. Use the site to set up and energize action groups in your community or organization

More than forty other high-profile organizations nationwide are now aligned with MomsRising, including SEIU, AFSCME and the AFL-CIO.

To learn more about this innovative organization and to explore all the opportunities to build momentum for change, please visit

Take Back the Clock
Working longer hours, FLEXTIME is the work option American families want most. What choice do you have?


If you're like most U.S. workers, you have at least two jobs: one at work and one at home. 
According to a new study by the Center for Law and Social Policy, balancing these two jobs and doing them well has become a tremendous challenge for the whole family.

Working women alone are putting in 270 more hours at work each year than they did two decades ago. 
According to the same study, two-thirds of parents report that they don't have enough time to spend with their children-and that their children are paying the price.

The flexible solution
How can we spend time with our family, give them what they need and still earn a living?

"Two words," says Patricia Gonzales, office manager in a federal department. "Flexible scheduling. Without flexibility, I couldn't meet the needs of two children and still do my job. I value flexibility almost as much as my health benefits."

Flextime recognizes that workers play many life roles at once

Flexible schedules - flextime - means workers can design a work schedule to fulfill the needs of their jobs and your families.

The goal is to earn enough to support your family without robbing your family of the most precious thing of all: the precious time needed to take an elderly parent to the doctor, stay home with a sick child, or move to part-time work, with benefits, when kids are out of school.

Of course, flexible schedules are nothing new. Traditionally, professionals and managers have exercised discretion in their own daily schedules while wage earners' shifts have been set in concrete.

But now, as balancing work and family becomes more difficult for working families, unions are starting to bargain for the power of working men and women to shape their work days and weekly shifts, and even to move deliberately between full and part-time.

"I see it as a justice issue," says Andre Spearman, political organizer for SEIU Local 790, which represents workers for the City and County of San Francisco workers.

"This is a benefit that all working families need," Spearman adds. "It should no longer be reserved for the upper echelons."

Achieving balance by the hour, week, season or year

Flexibility gives workers control over their own schedules within boundaries agreed upon with the employer. 

For example, with a flexible schedule agreement, an employee might start earlier and leave earlier in order to pick kids up from school. Another might compress forty hours a week into four 10-hour shifts to get another full day off. Still others might choose to leave early when needed and make up the work later in the week.

The idea behind flexible scheduling, says Kris Rondeau, organizer for the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers is that schedules should adapt to the individual worker's needs. "We negotiated language that allows for members to work out a schedule to fit their circumstances. There are so many options and life circumstances change so that schedules have to be renegotiated every year." 

Exercising union rights increases flexibility

Janice Spelman, a single mother who belongs to SEIU Local 790 in San Francisco, explains, "I need my job and benefits. But what's the point if my job prevents me from being there for my kids when they need me? Especially in my situation, where my kids only have me, flexible scheduling is a must." 

The union's Andre Spearman lays out the winning process step-by-step:

ASK: Survey members about their exact needs and identify those who would benefit from flexible scheduling.

BUILD UNITY: Bring members together around the need for flexible schedules. Remind them that even if they don't need it now, it could benefit them in the future - and it's important to support their co-workers.

PROPOSE: Come up with a written proposal for management describing the flexible scheduling you need and how it would work. "Be sure to include statistics about its benefit to overall work performance," Spearman reminds.

GET IT IN WRITING: Sign off on a written agreement that describes exactly how flexible scheduling will be administered.

Families under greatest time pressure need flex the most

Marcia Kropf, vice president of research at Catalyst, a non-profit for women in business, lays out similar steps for negotiating flex time even without union representation:

"While employees must determine their own needs, make your case from the employer's point of view," she says. "Even family-friendly organizations must keep an eye on the bottom line."

And, adds Kropf, if management is skeptical, create a review period to discuss how flextime is working.

Andre Spearman agrees that a process of engagement is involved. "You have to work on alleviating managers' fears that the 'floodgates will open' and everyone will ask for time off at the same time," he says.

"But if you don't give up, it will happen. It really benefits union members and management.  It makes for healthier families and a healthier work place."

When unions negotiate FlexTime, it can give you more control over your work schedule on an hourly or daily basis, by the shift, the week, season or year. Some examples:

. Time your lunch break for a personal appointment
. Compress your work week to four days
. Split shifts or share positions
. Telecommute
. Flexibly satisfy an annual budget of work hours
. Change work locations

More U.S. unions are seeking and winning flextime options. Is yours?


What: Overtime limits
Where: Indiana Hospital
Who: Nurses of IHPEA, Local 5120 of AFT Healthcare

Nurses working at Indiana Hospital can now be required to work overtime only after managers exhaust alternatives such as asking volunteers to stay late or come in early; trading scheduled days; temporarily reassigning nurses; and calling nurses not scheduled to work. Those working overtime can't be required to return to work for at least ten hours, but may agree to come in sooner.

What: Personal & family leave
Where: Wisconsin
Who: Polk County Joint Council Local 774, AFSCME

Unpaid leave for personal, family and medical reasons -up to two years for family or medical reasons after using up accrued sick and vacation time. Leave can't be withheld unreasonably.

What: Sick leave bank
Where: Amesbury School District, Massachusetts
Who: Local 1033, American Federation of Teachers

Teachers created a sick leave bank to help colleagues who have serious illnesses or emergencies but have used up their own sick time. Members who wish to participate contribute one sick day per year until the bank reaches 500 days; the school district adds one day for every ten days donated.  To "withdraw" sick days, a teacher must have exhausted all accumulated sick leave and lost pay for five days.

What: Excess overtime review
Where: Brown & Williamson Tobacco, Macon, Georgia
Who: Local 362, Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers

Union members pushed Brown & Williamson to review excess overtime. In contract negotiations, B&W agreed to address undesirable levels of overtime. The union helped develop a system of periodic production and staffing reviews that will reduce overtime in the long term. To show good faith, B&W agreed to launch its first review within 30 days of contract signing.

Questions? Want a copy of the actual contract language? Call us at 510-643-7088 or email

Breastfeeding on the bus route/  Anthony Rogers, shop steward of the Alameda County, California, bus drivers' union, ATU Local 192, came up with a creative solution for a new mother who wanted to continue to breastfeed after returning to the driver's seat. He worked with Human Resources to change her route so she could stop by a local health clinic, pump breast milk, and take it on the bus in a refrigerated cooler. In turn, the clinic was proud to highlight this mother-in-transit in community Breastfeeding Awareness events.

Largest pregnancy discrimination settlement in history / Verizon Communications Inc. (formerly Nynex and Bell Atlantic) will pay nearly $49 million to more than twelve thousand current and former female employees as part of a landmark class-action lawsuit alleging pregnancy discrimination. In a case brought by the EEOC, along with CWA and IBEW (the unions representing the workers), the company was accused of denying women pension and other benefit accruals during pregnancy and maternity leaves - benefits given to workers on other types of disability leave.

Getting Punched: The Job and Family Clock describes how workers often face dueling responsibilities at work and at home - and how businesses benefit when they address this tension with responsive scheduling and paid time off. This ready-to-download publication from the Center for Law and Social Policy suggests ten ways government can promote responsive workplaces for workers of all wages. Go to and click on Work-Life.

Online updates on work life legislation introduced in Congress and state legislatures are posted by the Sloan Work and Family Research Network, Boston College. Follow these two links to stay informed about bills affecting older workers and shaping family leave policies:

Take a bullet for the department? / Seven months pregnant, a police officer in Suffolk County, N.Y., asked to be taken off patrol duty because her bulletproof vest no longer fit. She was given a choice: continue working without the vest or stay home without pay. Along with six other women officers, she sued and won. A new Suffolk County policy allows an officer to serve ninety days of limited duty if unable to wear a bulletproof vest. [Work & Family Newsbrief]


Vital Statistic
(click to view PDF)

IN 2004, THE MOST RECENT YEAR REPORTED, there was less difference that ever between the percentage of men and women in the labor force. One notable difference? Men's participation peaks in their 30s. For women, out-of-home employment steadily grows from age 20 to age 50. (Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics)


Lots of changes at the Labor Project for Working Families. Nikki Dones, who worked with us for six years, has moved on to the California Nurses Association. We will miss her and wish her well!

Jenya Cassidy has returned to work part-time so she can spend as much time as possible with her newborn twins. She will focus on the newsletter and child care policy.

And, we are thrilled to have two new staff people.

Brenda Muñoz is a skilled organizer, having worked for AFSCME for five years on many different campaigns. She is bi-lingual in Spanish and will be focusing on outreach and education on paid family leave and other work family issues.

Vibhuti Mehra has a strong communications background and has worked on domestic violence issues and community outreach with South Asian women. Vibhuti is a native of India and speaks several Indian languages. She will be overseeing our communications strategies.

With this issue of the newsletter, we have made some changes and in future will focus the inside story on a particular work family option. This time, we have chosen to spotlight workplace flexibility, which is also highlighted in the Motherhood Manifesto.


Send ideas, news and comments to

Netsy Firestein

Jenya Cassidy

Reprint freely, with acknowledgement
Published quarterly by the Labor Project for Working Families

2521 Channing Way No. 5555
Berkeley, CA 94720
Phone (510) 643-7088
Fax: (510) 642-6432

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