Labor Family News - Spring 2001

INSIDE THIS ISSUE

Family Benefits for Bus Drivers


Expanding the Defenition of Family

Domestic Partner Survivior Benefits

Resources

Labor Work/Family Listserv

 

 

 

 


UNION NEWS

Family Benefits for Bus Drivers

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 192 won strong family benefits in their recent contract with AC Transit. These include:


Expanding the Definition of Family

AFSCME Local 11 negotiated with the State of Ohio for family leave and bereavement leave for immediate family. Immediate family is defined broadly as spouse, significant other (one who stands in place of a spouse and who resides with the employee), as well as child, stepchild, grandchild, parents and step-parents, in-laws, siblings and great grandparents. Accrued sick leave may be used to care for immediate family. (AFSCME Local 11 and the State of Ohio)


Domestic Partners Benefits - Beyond Health Coverage

As unions fight for benefits and laws that improve the lives of working families there is a growing movement within labor to extend these rights and privileges to same sex couples. The struggle for equality for domestic partners goes beyond securing medical benefits. Family rights that are still denied domestic partners include: taking family leave to care for a sick partner, survivorship - receiving a percentage of a pension in the case of a partner's death, the right to make decisions in the event of illness or death of a partner, and social security benefits. Members of Pride at Work, the newest constituency group of the AFL-CIO, organized behind the scenes in some of the most celebrated victories for the rights of gay and lesbian workers and their domestic partners. The organization fights for the right of gay and lesbian employees to work in a safe, harassment free environment, provide medical benefits to life partners, and eventually extend all of the benefits and responsibilities that married workers enjoy to same sex unions.

What started out as a movement for non-discrimination policies in the workplace has become much more - it is now a movement that demands equal rights for same sex partners in the workplace and beyond. According to Nancy Wohlforth, National Co-President of Pride at Work, one of the most celebrated victories for domestic partner benefits in recent years - the Big Three Auto Makers; General Motors, Ford and Chrysler division of Daimler-Chrysler AG -- extending medical benefits to domestic partners - started with bargaining for and winning non-discrimination in the contract. "There was a Pride at Work Rank and File Caucus in the UAW (United Auto Workers). They got the union to include non-discrimination in their bargaining demands and they won. The next step in 1999 was bargaining for Domestic Partner Benefits. This was a much bigger struggle. They finally agreed to study the issue. And in June of 2000 they agreed."

One of the largest employers in the country providing domestic partner benefits was a big victory but only a step toward the long-term goals of the movement toward recognizing domestic partners as equal to family members. As Wohlforth explains, "We are winning DP benefits in the workplace. Let's fight for survivorship, extend the Family and Medical Leave Act to include domestic partners, and the long term goal - social security benefits for same sex partners."

Both in the workplace and outside of it, domestic partners in most states find that their relationship to their partners is "invisible" in the eyes of the law and they are denied the right to make medical decisions or receive any survivorship benefits usually accorded to family members. In California, a State Assembly Committee approved a bill that addresses some of these problems. If the bill is passed, it would allow domestic partners to: Gay and lesbian couples in Hawaii already enjoy many of these rights and in Vermont, same-sex partners are allowed to form civil unions that give them the same benefits as marriage.

Pride at Work has taken up the issue of survivorship and is currently working on a campaign with unions to extend domestic partner benefits to defined benefit pension plans. OPEIU's Trust Fund amended the International Union's pension plan to provide a joint and survivor annuity to partners not just spouses. This would mean that the surviving domestic partner of a union member would receive 50% of their pension for the rest of their life. OPEIU Local 3 in San Francisco is currently negotiating for survivor benefits with the United Way of the Bay Area. This campaign is being taken to all unions, especially those that have Taft-Hartley Trust Funds. These are run jointly by the employer and the union.

Pride at Work is also joining with the National Gay, Lesbian, Transgender, Bisexual Task Force to change social security laws. Right now, same sex partners are not entitled to social security benefits if one partner dies. "It galls me that if I were to die tomorrow, my partner of twenty years would get nothing while a straight person on their third marriage could be married yesterday and their spouse would get 50% - 75% of their social security." says Wohlforth of Pride at Work. "We see it as an equal pay for equal work issue. I pay into social security - we pay into the same system - it is unjust. Lesbian and gay workers are not paid equal pay for equal work. When we die, our money goes into the black hole."

In the fight for Domestic Partner Benefits many battles have been won. However, same sex couples continue to fight for the recognition and the legal rights that traditional families take for granted.


Low Income Parents Lack Workplace Supports

For American families, the disparity of living and working conditions between lower and upper income workers is greater than ever. In The Widening Gap, author Jody Heyman, M.D., Ph.D shows that economic inequalities are magnified by the fact that while the poor have greater family responsibilities, they lack the resources to adequately address them. This has created a "care gap" in America: lower income working families are working harder and longer and their children and elderly relatives are receiving less and less care.

According to Dr. Heyman, lower income workers have greater child care
needs and spend more time caring for elderly parents than higher income families: The lack of paid leave and flexibility in the workplace can force parents to decide between their jobs and caring for their children or sick family members. Heyman writes, "Paid leave and flexibility in the workplace can make a critical difference in the feasibility of a worker meeting family members' needs while succeeding at, or at least surviving on, a job." For example, flexibility enables parents to take sick relatives to the doctor or meet with teachers about a child's school problems. Paid leave enables parents to stay home with sick children. But according to Dr. Heyman's research, only one in twenty working poor parents consistently had at least four weeks of combined paid vacation and sick leave available each year. And, over the course of five years, 78% of low income parents found themselves at times in jobs with no flexibility at all. The working parents who don't have paid leave or flexibility are the least likely to be able to afford quality substitute care. "In the absence of universally available childhood education," Dr. Heyman writes, "low-income families spend a far higher percentage of their income getting far less adequate care for their children.." Paid leave, flexible work time and universally available quality child care for low and middle income workers are needed to bridge the "care gap" between the families of the rich and the poor. (The Widening Gap: Why American's Working Families Are in Jeopardy and What Can Be Done About It, Jody Heymann, M.D., Ph.D., Basic Books.)



Resources

Beyond the Bottom Line, The Search for Dignity at Work. By Paula Rayman, PhD. This book examines the issues of dignity at work by looking beyond the short range numbers and statistics. It offers feasible alternatives for workplaces that are more responsive to workers' needs while maintaining productive workplaces. It is possible to work, and still have a life, this book claims. Published by Palgrave Press.
For information, call 212-674-5151, ext. 704.


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Labor Family News is published quarterly by:

Labor Project for Working Families
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Netsy Firestein
Editor

Jenya Cassidy
Managing Editor

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