Labor Family News - Fall 2007

Fight Family Care Bias
In It for the Long Haul
Unions Win It!
Did You Know.?
Family Values at Work: It's About Time!

Fight Family Care Bias
New EEOC guidelines offer a tool for unions


A female sales representative at a retail store openly expresses her interest in a managerial position and clearly indicates to her supervisor that she is willing to relocate for the job. However, her supervisor chooses to recommend a man over her because she has children and he doesn't think that she "would want to relocate her family".

    A male police officer in Maryland requests 4-8 weeks leave under FMLA to care for his pregnant wife who is suffering from medical complications. He is told he cannot take more than 2 weeks off. After the birth of his child, he requests 4 weeks of leave as allowed by the State law to primary caregivers. The personnel manager denies his request stating that he can't be a primary caregiver unless his wife "is in coma or dead".

Discrimination against workers with caregiving responsibilities - both women and men - is on the rise. And an increasing number of workers that are caregivers are suing their employers for discrimination.

According to a 2006 report from the Center for WorkLife Law at the UC Hastings College of the Law, the number of family responsibilities discrimination cases filed by workers between 1996 and 2005 grew nearly 400 percent from the previous decade. While the majority of plaintiffs are women (given that they still fulfill most family caregiving responsibilities), more and more men are suing employers for discrimination because they are caregivers.

Employers' stereotypical views and biases against caregivers and caregiving reveal that American workplaces have failed to adapt to the changing needs and responsibilities of working families. The Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently acknowledged the potential for greater discrimination against working parents and bias against workers with other caregiving responsibilities. In May 2007, the EEOC released new guidelines titled "Unlawful Disparate Treatment of Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities" to shed light on what kind of workplace discrimination based on family responsibilities is illegal.

The EEOC guidelines clarify that under federal law an employer cannot stereotype workers who are caregivers based on their sex or assumptions about how their caregiving responsibilities will impact their job performance and commitment. The limitation of the guidelines is that they don't create a protected class of workers.

However, the guidelines have created an opportunity for unions to protect workers who are caregivers from discrimination. As Carol Joyner, former director of the 1199 SEIU/Employer Child Care Fund, points out, "The EEOC has reviewed the language of protected categories to broaden the ways in which discrimination occurs for individuals - because they are caregivers. Unions have a great deal of power through these new EEOC changes." 

"Combined with language from collective bargaining agreements, unions can address issues that appear to be grievances related to time, attendance, etc. but are really caregiver incidents. Unions must track these incidents, and publicize the growing problems that many members face when the "poor performer" is really a caregiver with young children and elderly parents all depending upon her for care,'' adds Carol Joyner, who recently testified at an EEOC hearing on balancing work and family in Washington D.C.

Joyner believes that public awareness of such trends that occur in all industries will minimize arbitrary outcomes for the worker. "What is needed is more unions working with their communities and changes in public policy to address the real issue - quality and affordable caregiver support systems for those who need it," she says.

Balancing Work, Family and your Union


During the 2007 Western Region Summer Institute for Union Women (SIUW), the Labor Project co-facilitated a class on Balancing Work, Life and Union.  We expected rank and file members to identify ways to involve their unions in helping to balance the demands of their jobs and the demands of their families. However, the 30 participants quickly showed us that they were not interested in a generic discussion on how to balance work and family, but on how to avoid burn out from working full time, having a family and playing an active role in their unions.  They believed in what they were doing; but they were exhausted.       

Burnout and exhaustion are potential hazards for union activists, especially for those with young children or other caregiving responsibilities.  Many organizers find it challenging to recruit these members and keep them involved.  "The hardest part about recruiting a union activist is that they have difficulty with committing their time.  They worry that they can't balance the time they need for the union with the demands of their family.  Workers already have to split their time between work and family -- the decision to engage in one more activity is hard" says Dan Abernathy, Organizing Director, AFSCME Council 18, New Mexico.

Caregivers Negotiate for Family-Friendly Policies

Involving union members with family responsibilities is key to negotiating for work and family policies that benefit the whole union.  Britta Duncan, a Summer Institute for Union Women participant and a member of ILWU Local 5 in Oregon, is a shop steward in her union and the mother of three children.  Britta works at Powell's City of Books in Portland and became involved with the union when she needed more job flexibility to take care of her new baby. "My job got less flexible when I got a new supervisor and I turned to the union for help," she explained.  "The union connected me to other workers experiencing the same thing and I began to see workplace flexibility as an issue for everyone.  I worked with my co-workers to make sure that there was a uniform policy in place.  I have continued to stay active in the union because I want to help other families fight for a better work and family balance." 
Ray Graham, shop steward and member of Carpenters Local 713 in Hayward, California, has three sons and has played an active role in his union for more than 10 years. Ray was instrumental in getting the Local to offer child care at meetings and believes that doing so increases the involvement of a diverse group of members.  "It helps people stay involved," he said. "When we got Spanish translation we saw an increase in Spanish speaking members coming to meetings and when we got child care it made it easier for parents to participate in the union."


  • Know yourself: make sure that you are honest with yourself about what you can take on before overcommitting.
  • Speak up:  if the work gets to be too much, talk to your union about your concerns before giving up. 
  • Put it in writing:  create a workable plan with your union.
  • Remember, even if you can't dedicate a lot of time there are ways to stay involved.

Caregivers as Organizers

In spite of the difficulty in involving union members with families, Dan Abernathy of AFSCME Council 18 says it's worth it and it's necessary.  "Members with family responsibilities know the importance of commitment and that is what we need in the union movement.  It is also important because when they organize new members, they can relate to the challenges of balancing work, family and other responsibilities. When new members can relate to the experiences of activists, they are more inclined to want to join the union."

Britta is effective as an organizer because she understands the challenges of those she is recruiting. When workers say that they can't get involved because of their family, Britta makes it clear that ILWU Local 5 is family friendly and that if they need child care, the union will provide it.

"I also make the work easier by making suggestions about specific activities and breaking up large jobs into smaller, doable pieces," she explains.  For example, she may recruit someone to do house visits once a week for the next three months rather than just telling them that the overall organizing campaign could go on for 1-2 years.  Britta is also motivated to recruit and train more activists so that there are more people to share the workload.

Unions Are a Positive Influence

"Being active in the union does make you extremely busy," says Ray Graham.  "There were times that I was so busy with my union work that I joked that the kids were going to start asking, 'who's that guy?' when I came to the dinner table" he laughed.  Ray says that the best way to balance union activism with family is to involve them directly.  "Being a shop steward, you definitely take your work home with you but we should not shield our kids from our union work," he explained.  "They need to see us do this work in order to understand the struggles of the working class.  I take the kids out on the picket line with me and my wife wanted to spend Mother's Day on a picket line at a local hotel."

Dan Abernathy agrees that balancing union work and family does not have to be either/or: "We have to let members know that the union is more than family friendly - the union can be a positive part of your family life. We're all in this together and we want to make their activism manageable." Dan also notes that what union organizers need to remember is to make the work fun:  "In order to recruit more union activists and keep them involved, organizers have to remind themselves that working with the union shouldn't have to be a sacrifice, it should be something members want to do and enjoy."  

Union members like Britta and Ray are doing more for their kids than negotiating for child care and flex time.  By playing a role in their union, they are providing a good example of community involvement and strength.  Ray commented, "I look at it this way:  as a dad, I could be watching TV or drinking beer in my down time.  Instead, I am either with my family or the union and, while the union takes time, I feel it is a positive influence on my kids."


  • Identify and develop more leaders so that responsibilities can be divided. 
  • Honor the fact that members have other responsibilities - they will be more open to getting involved if they know the union respects this.
  • Break it down: organize the work into sizable chunks.
  • Write it down: work with the member on a work plan to make their volunteer commitment clear and manageable.
  • Offer Child Care: make the union more family-friendly by offering child care or other options at meetings and events.
  • Have fun: when possible, have events at family friendly venues, for example, bowling alleys or a park.
  • Involve the kids: find creative, fun ways to involve family members like sign-painting for kids.


WHAT: Sick Leave Buy-Back
WHERE: Hyannis, MA
WHO: SEIU Hospital Workers Union Local 767 & Cape Cod Human Services/ Cape Cod Healthcare, Inc.
Hospital workers at Cape Cod Healthcare have the option to exchange their unused sick leave for paid hours at the rate of 3 sick hours for 1 paid hour. The request must be made in writing within one month following a worker's anniversary date. A full-time worker may choose to exchange a maximum of 12 sick days for 4 days' pay. Part-time workers also have this option on a pro-rata basis. A worker must retain at least 13 sick leave days at the time of exchange.

WHAT: Paid Leave for Domestic Violence Victims
WHERE: Ontario, Canada
WHO: Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) Locals 1839, 1915 & Northern Telecom Canada, Ltd.
CAW Locals 1839 and 1915 have the right to paid leave for female members who are victims of domestic abuse. If a worker is absent from the job as a result of domestic violence and provides adequate verification from recognized professionals (e.g. doctor, lawyer, pro-fessional counselor) to the Health Center, she will receive pay for the first day of absence at a rate equivalent to 90% of her basic earnings plus COLA.  

WHAT: Shorter Period for FMLA Eligibility 
WHERE: Oakland, California
WHO: ATU Local 192 & AC Transit 
Members of ATU Local 192 employed by AC Transit are eligible to apply for leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) within six months of service and a minimum of 625 hours on the job. This is a good example of unions using their bargaining power to build on a federal law. As per federal law, workers are eligible to take FMLA leave only if they have worked for their employer for at least one year, and have worked for at least 1,250 hours over the year.

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

DID You Know.?

FACT:  A six year study of 23,681 adults found those who took half-hour naps at least three times a week had a 37% lower risk of dying of heart problems.


Women putting off having children due to high cost of child care   A new national poll finds that the cost of quality child care and preschool is causing women of child-bearing age to decide against having children or put off having them until they are more financially secure.  The poll, commissioned by the anti-crime organization, Fight Crime: Invest in Kids found that 23% of women ages 18-40 have delayed starting a family or decided against a second child due to the prohibitive costs of quality child care and preschool.


Young Adults to Stay on their Parents' Insurance  At least 8 states in 2007 took the simple and relatively low-cost step to expand access to health insurance by requiring insurance companies to allow adult children to remain on their parents insurance well into their 20s.  Of the 45 million uninsured in the U.S., 13.7 million, or 31%, are between the ages of 19 and 29.  In most states, children are no longer eligible for their parents' coverage once they turn 18 or graduate from college.  But, as young adults typically have fewer health problems than older adults, they are relatively cheap to insure.  Although the specifics vary, now at least 19 states have similar laws.


New Jersey Child Care Workers Win Landmark Contract   More than 6,000 New Jersey child care workers - members of the Child Care Workers Union - won a landmark first contract that provides for pay raises, a first-in-the-nation grievance procedure and a real union voice among other benefits.  The child care workers, organized by CWA Local 1037, provide child care for New Jersey parents who are receiving public assistance.  Under the contract, workers get substantial increases - for example, a provider caring for five children will earn $7,200 more annually by July of 2009.


"People in the United States don't even understand what could be possible on the issue of paid time off.  This is one of the most important ideological victories of the right in the last 30 years--to persuade us we aren't rich enough to treat workers well. We're incredibly rich, getting richer every year, and we have plenty of resources to pay adequate wages, pensions, health insurance and vacations, but we've chosen to give that money to the top five percent."  John Schmitt, Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR) in Washington D.C.

VITAL Statistic

Vital Statistic
(Click to open PDF)


A few weeks ago the MultiState Working Families Consortium, a partnership of coalitions in eight states, released a report on the need for minimum standards for family-friendly workplaces (See box below). In case we think that this is not a real problem, the same week we got an email from a distraught parent. Both she and her husband work for the same city and when it snows, they have mandatory overtime sometimes lasting overnight.  They have an infant who is in child care.  Last year when it snowed, she left work early to pick up her baby.  She was suspended and lost a day's pay.  So much for a family friendly workplace.  We can hope that her employer will institute a policy to remedy this situation.  Or we can advocate for public policies that cover all workers to have minimum standards to:

1) guarantee a minimum number of paid sick days;
2) increase the number of workers covered by FMLA;
3) establish family and medical leave insurance programs;
4) guarantee a few hours off each year to attend parent-teacher conferences, and other protections such as curtailing mandatory overtime, equity for part time workers, removing barriers to the right to organize and bargain collectively and worker controlled flexibility.  As the report says: It's About Time!

Family Values at Work: It's About Time!
Why We Need Minimum Standards to Ensure a Family-Friendly Workplace

You shouldn't have to risk your job to take care of your family, and you shouldn't have to put your family at risk just to do your job. A new report published by the MultiState Working Families Consortium makes a case for changing our public policy to reflect true family values from workplace flexibility to job protected family leave.

To find the report go to:




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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