Labor Family News - Fall 2008

Equality in Layoffs
Single Dads & Tag Team Parents
Unions Win It!
Labor Project News

Equality in Layoffs?
Union Membership Protects Women Facing Historic Job Losses


Women Workers
Women caregivers in SEIU United Healthcare Workers-West went on strike to raise standards for workers and residents at Windsor nursing homes across northern California. Photo credit Tadzio Garcia. 

In the last economic downturn, women workers finally achieved workplace equality with their male counterparts in one regard: layoffs. For the first time in the post-war period, women lost jobs during the last recession and never gained them back. If this trend holds in the current downturn, working women and their families will be hit harder than ever. "The only good news is that the percentage of women joining unions is going up. Being a union member is the best protection in times like these," said Karen Nussbaum, Executive Director of Working America, a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.

In July 2008, the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress explored why women's jobs were hit hard in the last downturn in a report titled Equality in Job Loss: Women Are Increasingly Vulnerable to Layoffs During Recessions. In recessions prior to 2001, women did not experience the sharp job losses of their male counterparts. While men lost jobs, women experienced job gains. But as more women entered formerly male-dominated sectors, women's job patterns started to look more like men's. In the last recession, women workers became vulnerable to the ups and downs of the business cycle and their employment rates fell. Women actually had higher job loss rates than men in the industries hardest hit by the downturn: manufacturing and trade, transportation and utilities. In the current downturn, as state and local governments implement cutbacks, women may be disproportionately affected by layoffs in the public sector, including education and health care. These are the sectors with some of the largest increases in union membership in 2007, increases primarily driven by women.

The Union Advantage
Faced with the prospect of more widespread job losses, what are the advantages of being a union member for women? Not only do union women earn 30% more than nonunion women, but they may benefit from job protection and family-friendly policies that make it easier to keep their jobs as the demands of caregiving rise. In 2007, while women's employment rates stagnated, working women helped to fuel the first increase in union membership in a quarter of a century. As more job losses loom on the horizon, unions should organize working women around the benefits of union membership in an economic downturn. In a recent interview with Women's ENews, Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO, spoke about the importance of organizing more working women. "We face greater challenges than ever.But I'm confident that we can meet the challenges because the best recruiting tool is a satisfied union member," said Durazo. In the current downturn, it may be more important than ever for working women to reach out to each other and gain a collective voice on the job. For the full Joint Economic Committee Study go to:

Single Dads & Tag Team Parents
More Men Struggle to Balance Work and Family


Father and Son
Since 1965, the time men spend caring for their children has more than tripled.

Men play a larger role in caring for their children than ever before. Since 1965, the time men spent doing child care has more than tripled. Right now, one of the fastest growing family types in the United States is the single-father household. And the majority of two couple households are also dual-career households where parents often 'tag team' or take turns spending time with kids while the other parent works. As more men become the primary caregivers for their children all or part of the time, they experience the same struggles balancing work and family as working mothers. But, because of their gender, men caregivers often face even tougher obstacles at work.

Men Caregivers "Come in Under the Radar"
When Joan C. Williams of Work Life Law, a Center of UC Hastings College of the Law, studied 99 trade union arbitrations in which workers were disciplined for meeting family responsibilities, she discovered that two-thirds of the cases involved men taking care of children, elders, or sick spouses. According to her report One Sick Child Away from Being Fired: When Opting Out is Not an Option, men are often less willing to bring up family needs with employers when they need flexible schedules or time off to care for a sick child. "Instead, they may suffer in silence or try to 'come in under the radar screen' - often with unhappy results."

One obstacle men face in taking parental leave is the perception, still strong in many workplaces, that bonding with infants and caring for sick children is primarily the woman's role. "People are used to women taking time off to care for children," said Marc Watson, Staff Representative of CWA Local 1034 in New Jersey. "Men have a harder time taking leave to care for kids in this culture. I have seen men being open about taking time off to arrange care for elderly parents, but they have a harder time admitting they need bonding leave or have child care issues."

According to Professor Williams, some of the increased time men spend with their kids is inspired by financial necessity: in working and middle class homes, parents often take turns or 'tag team' parent in order to avoid the high costs of child care. "In a unionized context, this is often how men become the primary caregivers for their children," she explains. She also points out that while among higher income dads it is popular to claim that they do 50 percent of the child care, working class and middle class men are more likely to be in this situation. "I always say that upper income dads 'talk the talk but don't walk the walk' while for lower and middle income dads it is the opposite," she says.

Even though working women rely on men to co-parent now more than ever, paternity leave remains far less common than maternity leave. According to James A. Levine, author of New Strategies for Balancing Work and Family, many men don't even take the leave they are entitled to. Instead, they take an 'underground leave' by combining sick time, vacation and discretionary days. Many fear that taking formal leave will damage their careers by making them seem less committed to the job. "It's important for unions to educate both management and members on the important role fathers play and also that they have the same rights as women to care for their children," affirms Marc Watson.

Men More Likely to Take Leave if Paid
Since the Family Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993, more men have the right to take unpaid, job-protected leave to bond with a newborn baby or care for a seriously ill family member but they continue to take this leave in smaller numbers than women. Many still perceive caregiving as primarily women's work and families may not be able to afford to do without the father's salary for long. Researchers in Canada found that when Quebec dramatically raised the benefit rates for fathers taking leave to bond with newborn children, the amount of men taking that leave jumped as well - from 32 percent to 56 percent in one year. One researcher from Statistics Canada commented that the increase in fathers taking leave was clearly tied to the benefit going up but that having the program has created an "overall cultural shift that promotes fatherhood."

Work-at-home dad and member of the National Writers' Guild, Dana Glazer
Work-at-home dad and member of the National Writers' Guild, Dana Glazer (above) writes a blog about his experience raising his sons. Dana says, "The societal message is 'fatherhood is important,' but if you scratch the surface, it's 'back to work dads!' I think that's ingrained in most of us. But there is incredible value in being an active father. Imagine what a better world we'd be living in if the majority of kids had involved dads?" Dana is currently working on a documentary film, "Evolution of Dad" which focuses on the importance of involved fathers. Visit his blog at Photo by Deborah Glazer. 

Younger Workers Demand Paid Leave
While older workers may be reticent to claim their rights as caregivers, there has been a shift in the US in understanding how important early bonding and taking leave is for both men and women. Jeff Johnson of the Labor Federation of Washington State says, "Men were very involved in the statewide campaign for paid family leave. For example, we had a lot of support from the Building Trades even though they would have a harder time using it (due to seasonal nature of work). Men really get the importance of this benefit."

As attitudes toward male caregiving change, more men are willing to fight for the right to care for their children. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the number of complaints filed by fathers is increasing. The EEOC says that some employers have wrongly denied male employees' requests for leave for child care purposes while granting similar requests to female employees.

The increase in complaints about being denied leave for child care may be due to younger workers who, according to a recent report in USA Today, are more likely to demand leave to care for children. Even though it is modest, there is an upsurge in companies offering family-friendly benefits to men through union contract negotiations or to attract new employees.

As a result, companies, large and small, are offering family-leave benefits to men. "A few years ago, I would have told you that paternity leave wasn't that beneficial in terms of recruiting and retaining," Burke Stinson, a spokesperson for AT&T tells HR Magazine. "But today, I would say these 20-something men are far less burdened by the macho stereotypes and more comfortable taking time off to be fathers."

Unions Can Help Working Fathers
What are some of the things that unions can do to encourage this trend? Professor Williams recommends framing the issue as the right to put family first: "No job or employer should ever prevent a father from doing right by his family. He has the right to put those obligations first." Unions can also engage working dads in the broader state and national campaigns for paid sick days and paid family leave. Marc Watson reminds us that besides fighting for these rights, we have to make sure that workers feel empowered to use them. "Union leaders can encourage fathers to take leave to be with their children by pointing to positive examples in the workplace. And we need to continually educate management about our rights - the best way to do this is to demand them and support each other in doing so."


Flexible Schedules:

  • Many working parents prefer to be able to flex their time in order to be there for their kids' school events or take them to doctor's appointments.
  • Make sure that the worker has control over when to flex their time.

Limits on Mandatory Overtime:

  • Bargain for limits on mandatory overtime.
  • Bargain for the requirement of advance notice for overtime, giving parents control over their daily work schedules.

Bargain for Paid Paternity Leave:

  • Get the message out that family friendly policies are not 'for women only' and apply to working fathers too.
  • Research shows that men are more likely to take leave if it is paid. Bargain for both paid maternity and paternity leave.

Educate Members about Their Rights

  • Educate around the importance of bonding and fathers' rights to bonding leave under FMLA and any state laws.
  • Providing educational seminars is an effective way to help working fathers realize they are not alone and that there are solutions.

Support the Family Friendly Workplace for All

  • Get involved and support state and national campaigns for paid family leave, paid sick days and other benefits that working families need.
  • Be sure that any new laws support fathers as well as mothers.


WHAT: Paid Voting Leave
WHERE: Washington, DC, Maryland and Virginia
WHO: Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild and Bureau of National Affairs, Inc.
Bureau of National Affairs employees represented by the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild who are registered to vote and scheduled to work on Election Day can get paid time off for four consecutive hours to vote before or after work.

WHAT: Paid Time Off for Marriage
WHERE: Princeton, NJ
WHO: American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Local 956 and Princeton University
Employees of Princeton University represented by AFSCME Local 956 can take paid time off on the last working day prior to the day of marriage, the day of marriage, or the first day after the marriage.

WHAT: Paid Transportation to Country of Origin for Bereavement Leave
WHERE: Los Angeles, CA
WHO: United Farm Workers (UFW) and Global Horizons
In the event of the death of a family member, Global Horizon farm workers represented by UFW can get paid round trip transportation to their country of origin in addition to three days of paid bereavement leave and more leave if required.

WHAT: Part Time Return to Work after Birth or Adoption
WHERE: Storrs, CT
WHO: University of Connecticut Professional Employees Association (UCPEA), Local 3695 American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and University of Connecticut
Following the birth or adoption of a child, University of Connecticut employees represented by the UCPEA Local 3695 who do not wish to take a leave of absence or return to work full-time can return to work half-time for up to six months. The employees can also request to work half-time for up to 12 months subject to management approval.

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


In the US, Less Women are Having Children. Women are waiting longer to have children, and more women than ever are choosing not to have children at all, according to a new Census Bureau report. Twenty percent of women ages 40 to 44 have no children, double the level of 30 years ago, the report said; and women in that age bracket who do have children have fewer than ever - an average of 1.9 children, compared with the mean average of 3.1 children in 1976. NYTimes 8-18-08

It's Easier to Have Kids in France. After pushing a pro-baby policy for years, France has an average two children per childbearing-age woman, while birth rates in the rest of Europe are steadily declining. The perks for having babies in France include:

In the rest of Europe, researchers predict that the low birth rates will lead to a drop of 30 million working-age Europeans by 2050. SFGATE, 8-10-08

Great Resources

Financial Help for Women Organizers. The Berger-Marks Foundation is providing grants of up to $40,000 to individuals and efforts dedicated to supporting and nurturing women who build the union movement. Says Berger-Marks Secretary-Treasurer Carolyn Jacobson: "Women make up nearly half of the American workforce. Recruiting, training, and keeping skilled women organizers are critical to union growth. The Berger-Marks Foundation plays a key role in helping in this effort." For more information, visit the Berger-Marks Foundation Website at


Working Women Need a Raise and a Break
The newly released results of the Working America 2008 Ask a Working Woman Survey reveal that working women now desire a 10 percent raise over any other benefit, even time. According to survey respondents, while they have little time to themselves, if they had more time, they would work another job.

VITAL Statistic

Vital Statistic
(Click image to open PDF PDF)


My mother remembers that my father took "a day or so" off from work when I was born. And I remember him working all the time, including Saturdays and lots of evenings. When my kids were born about 20 years ago, my husband Larry had one week off and hated going back to work and leaving the new baby each time. My brother had a baby last year and felt lucky to get one week off from his job! But Jeremy Smith, Legislative Advocate and our ally at the California Labor Federation around passing Paid Sick Days legislation, is taking 3 weeks off in November when his first baby is born. Then in March, he is taking 4 weeks off - he will get partial pay through California's Paid Family Leave program and his employer will make up the difference, as per his union contract. Now, that's more like it.

Parental leave is critical for developing a strong bonding relationship right from the start. But it is only the first step. After that, fathers, like mothers, need flexible hours and time off to take a child to the doctor, and paid sick days for all those days of ear infections or chicken pox or the flu. And what about school plays, soccer games and parent-teacher conferences? Fathers want to be there for their children. But it seems that in our society, it's still not acceptable for fathers to demand that time off or those flexible hours. It's still in the mother's "domain". But, as more couples both work and raise children together, more and more union contracts have provisions for all union members to have flexible work hours, paid sick days for themselves and their children, paid family leave and even child care benefits. Many organizations and unions have signed on to fight for federal action in 2009 that truly "values families" at work. Check out the "Valuing Families at Work" agenda at: With fathers playing an active role both in their families and their unions, we will get there.

Labor Project News

New Staff
Welcome Brandy Davis! Brandy joined the staff of the Labor Project for Working Families in August. Brandy is an attorney with a background in litigation, training and policy work around domestic violence issues. She will be coordinating the California Work and Family Coalition focusing on a campaign to win Paid Sick Days for all California workers.

Also, welcome Shu Liu! Shu just started as a work study student at the Labor Project. She is an undergrad at UC Berkeley majoring in Chinese and Political Economy.

Labor Media Awards
The Labor Project for Working Families has won two awards in the 2008 Labor Media Contest organized by the International Labor Communications Association (ILCA):



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Jenya Cassidy

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Published quarterly by the Labor Project for Working Families

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