Labor Family News - Spring 2006

New Teaching Guide Helps Unions Educate, Agitate, and Organize Around Work Family Issues

WOMEN ORGANIZING WOMEN: How Do We Rock the Boat Without Getting Thrown Overboard?

Power of Persuasion: Communicating Work Family Issues and Programs

Other News



Teamsters working for the University of Minnesota have a comprehensive, paid parental leave provision in their contract that gives members access to both paid and unpaid time off after working at least 20 hours per week, for a minimum of 9 months.  New and adoptive parents receive two weeks of paid leave.  Biological mothers can extend their leave with up to four weeks of accumulated sick leave.  Maternity, paternity or adoption leave can be lengthened through an unpaid leave of absence for a period of up to six months.   A member who takes leave will return to his/her former position or, if it no longer exists, to a position of like status and pay.  Members also have access to 16 hours of unpaid time for school conferences. (International Brotherhood of Teamsters Local 320 & University of Minnesota)

CWA members at SBC now have access to a Snow Day Child Care Reimbursement Program, created by the SBC/CWA Family Care Committee.  The program is designed to reimburse parents of children ages 5-12 who must find alternate care for their child when inclement weather forces school closures.  Members are given a phone number to call for state licensed child care referrals and are advised to call at the beginning of the winter season to pre-register with a provider.   Members are reimbursed at 100% of the cost, up to a maximum of $35 per child. (Communication Workers of America & SBC)

Members of HPAE working at New Jersey’s Bergen Regional Medical Center have contract language limiting mandatory overtime.  All overtime requests must first be offered to current and per diem staff, then to outside agency personnel.  Only if the overtime needs are still unmet and the employer has shown documentation of its efforts to the union, can a supervisor require employees to work overtime.  Overtime is assigned on a rotating basis, in reverse seniority order. (Health Professionals and Allied Employees (HPAE), AFT, Local 5091 & Bergen Regional Medical Center, New Jersey)

Members of ATU Division 1555 have access to five days of paid bereavement leave that can be extended with the use of vacation, floating holidays or an unpaid leave of absence.  Bereavement leave can be taken for immediate family members defined as spouse, domestic partner, child, parent, brother, sister, grandparent, parent-in-law, step-parent, step-child, child of a domestic partner and legal guardian.   The Division also has contract language that allows employees to take up to six months of unpaid leave for emergencies, vocational/ educational training or personal matters.  While on leave the member will continue to accumulate service with the District and have the option to pay the costs for coverage under the Health & Welfare programs.  (Amalgamated Transit Union Division 1555 & Bay Area Rapid Transit District)

New Teaching Guide Helps Unions Educate, Agitate, and Organize Around Work Family Issues
by Cheryl Brown Carol

Joyner, former Director of the 1199SEIU/Employer Child Care Fund, presented a new work family curriculum, Making It Work Better, to a group of 18 union women at last year’s Summer Institute for Union Women in New York. The women including rank and filers, organizers, and union staff, became very emotional, even teary, as they relived difficult periods in their lives, realizing perhaps for the first time that they had survived several crises with very little support in their workplace or unions.

Every day, working people are faced with difficult choices: Pick up the children late or leave work early? Take vacation time or unpaid time off to care for a sick relative? Lose a shift or pass up on a good educational opportunity? These are challenges that employers may not make a priority but unions can!

Making It Work Better, from the Labor Project for Working Families, is a new, 3 ½ hour workshop curriculum that provides unions with the tools to create a comprehensive work family agenda and make it a higher priority for the union. It is designed to educate leadership and the rank and file about these issues and give direction on how to address them through organizing, collective bargaining and policy change. It’s a tool for every union, large or small, interested in the work and family challenges that members face every day.

These issues strike a deep chord with members who don’t always separate them from other union issues like wages, benefits, safety and on-the-job conditions. All too often however, work family issues such as time off, unpaid leave, childcare, and flex time do not make it to the top-tier of collective bargaining and legislative agendas. Indeed, Carol Joyner recalls that the participants of her workshop “were completely floored to think that they could discuss these issues alongside the traditional union matters.” The workshop exercises took longer than expected because the participants “seemed to have years of pent up emotion over work family issues that no one ever cared to hear.”

To facilitate learning, Making It Work Better is divided into sections.  It begins with a candid discussion about the participants’ own work family experiences, followed by a Power Point overview of the issues. The next section is about grappling with the issues and building capacity which includes scenarios on grievances, bargaining, organizing, and public policy. Finally the last section helps participants develop an effective action plan to move these issues forward. Designed to fit into any union’s education program, each section can be taught on its own or incorporated into a union training or meeting.  It can be adapted to any union, industry or workforce.

Mary Hardiman, former Teamsters Education Director offers some tips: Teach the curriculum in different ways. Try parts of it and connect it to existing training programs. Bring your own life experiences into the training to model the stories and strategies you hope to generate from the group. A word of warning: as Joyner found out, the subject matter can be emotional at times, which is a challenge to any facilitator but it can also set the stage to move members to action. Making It Work Better is explicitly designed to take participants from awareness-raising through personal experiences to education on the issues, then to skills development, and finally to effective actions.

“Too often work family issues become sidelines, instead of being central to what we do with members. Workers today feel pressured by these practical realities, and unions can connect members to solutions via organizing, forming a union and bargaining collectively”, says Hardiman.

Making it Work Better can be downloaded. It includes a teaching guide, power point, Class Exercises and Handouts.

WOMEN ORGANIZING WOMEN: How Do We Rock the Boat Without Getting Thrown Overboard?
by Sue Schurman

All working women have problems balancing their jobs with their family obligations. The women whose jobs involve organizing women workers into unions face a quadruple whammy. They must balance time at home dealing with spouses (or not) and children (and/or parents with needs) with jobs that have them out of town, working long hours and often transferred from place to place with little notice. Add to that the necessary agility to adjust their work time to fit the working hours and family needs of the women they are trying to organize and you have a perfect formula for stress.

How do they do it? And why do they do it? The Berger-Marks Foundation asked 19 experienced women union organizers to discuss their challenges, rewards and recommendations and then put it all in a report that bears the same title as this article. The women’s conclusion: this is the work that will make a difference in women’s lives – but it could be made a whole lot easier to do.

The Berger-Marks Foundation brought the 19 organizers together for a weekend retreat. While sharing experiences and war stories, they came up with specific recommendations about how unions could make organizing jobs more attractive to women, while also making better use of women organizers’ talents. Their recommendations could have been drawn straight from the scientific literature on how to reduce stress and eliminate its ultimate consequence, burnout. The recommendations probably have a lot in common with the wish lists of women workers in all kinds of demanding jobs, and might be excellent demands to put on any bargaining table.

  1. Give organizers more control over their schedules. Travel is necessary, but leave time for trips back home at definite intervals. Night work is essential, but let the organizers choose the nights.
  2. Allow for working in teams. This not only shares the burdens and responsibilities, but it allows for mentoring and support.
  3. Allow for more work from home.
  4. Make sure organizers have the tools they need – especially something as basic as a laptop computer.
  5. Supply adequate funds up-front, so organizers do not have to lay out their own money and wait for reimbursement.
  6. Find creative ways to address child care and family issues. One suggestion to compensate in some way for the time lost with one’s children was to provide sabbaticals for organizers.
  7. Have more women in union management roles.
  8. Center more union organizing drives where union members are, and encourage local unions to support the campaigns and lend their most active members to the effort.
  9. Build training and mentoring into the job.
  10. Place more value on organizing as a union career. Require every union staffer to work on at least one organizing drive. Value the work of organizers even if they don’t win a particular campaign.
  11. Be clear about the requirements of the job of organizer, so a woman knows what to expect.
Having more women organizers in the labor movement is more than just a nice idea. It’s a necessity. As Cornell University professor Kate Bronfenbrenner points out in the preface to her report Union Organizing among Professional Women Workers, “Women now make up nearly half of the U.S. labor force. And women are significantly more likely to join labor unions than men – especially if the lead organizer is a woman.” If unions are to grow, they need women throughout their ranks to make it happen. Making the organizer’s job more family-friendly is an important first step.

Sue Schurman is President of the National Labor College. To download or order the report and learn more about Berger-Marks Foundation, go to

Power of Persuasion: Communicating Work Family Issues and Programs

As you promote work family issues on your job, in your union and within broader communities, you may encounter some concerns and opposition.  To overcome these barriers, it’s important to communicate facts that may persuade your decision makers that these issues are real and important to working men and women today.  Here are some common objections and possible responses:

There is No Need for Work Family Programs
Study after study has documented the need for work family programs, and recent studies are showing the positive effects of work family policies and programs on the job, with employees as well as employers.  In fact, labor force participation rates have increased dramatically, particularly for women and parents.  Work family programs help ease the stress and barriers for workers who are caregivers in their families.

Why Set Up a Program Only a Few Will Use?
Employers will often resist work family programs if they believe only a few workers will benefit from them.  It’s important to demonstrate that work family programs can be established in a way that benefits all workers, not just a few.  Family and medical leave and alternative work schedules are just two examples of programs that cut across the workforce. 
Likewise, unions have always understood that some programs and benefits, like sick leave, health care and disability plans, may not benefit all workers on a day-to-day sense. Rather they benefit workers over the course of their employment when the benefits are most needed.
The goal is to establish programs that are comprehensive.  Programs that include a broad range of options are the ones that seem to get strong membership and employer support.

Work Family Programs Cost Too Much
The cost of doing nothing costs more, doesn’t it?  Does your employer experience high turnover due to chaotic scheduling or mandatory overtime?  Does your employer struggle to fill staffing vacancies?  Does productivity suffer when workers experience too many pressures, at home and at work?
Work family programs are actually a cost-effective means for securing and retaining good workers and accommodating workers in the future, whether they become caregivers or decide to return to school.  Helping workers balance home and work can also reduce stress.  Workers are far more productive when they can devote time, effort and enthusiasm to their jobs and careers without the distraction of feeling overwhelmed by time and caregiving pressures.
Start up costs for work family programs vary in the amount of time, effort and expense needed.  For example, Dependent Care Assistance Programs (DCAPs) may have some initial set-up costs but once they are established, they cost very little to maintain.  In addition, DCAPs actually save the employer money.
To be successful in persuading the employer that work family program costs are minimal or achievable, the union needs to document and demonstrate the costs vs. the benefits of such a program.  The union may want to determine the cost to the employer for not establishing these programs in terms of hiring, training, retention and turnover, productivity and morale and employee loyalty.

Caregiving Doesn’t Impact the Bottom Line, Does It?
A national study conducted by the Family and Work Institute found that among workers with a spouse and/or children, 54% reported having some or a lot of interference between their job and family life.  Working mothers with children under 13 miss an average of 6.4 days of work a year, while fathers miss 3.85 days.  One-third of families with children under 6 reported they had child care arrangements fall apart in the previous 3 months.

A study by the National Alliance for Caregivers estimated that each employee who is involved in hands-on caregiving costs an employer more than $3,000 a year in absences, work interruptions, added supervisory workload, and medical and replacement costs.  In one company of 87,000 employees, caregiving costs neared $5.5 million a year.

We’ve Tried It Before, No One Uses Them
Work family programs cannot be effectively measured by how often employees use them because employees’ needs will ebb and flow.  What if the outcome of these programs is retention?  Does that kind of thing show up in utilization rates alone? Of course not.
Utilization rates are important and can be addressed by routine communication and marketing efforts.  Likewise, it is important to evaluate these programs on a regular basis.  These methods, along with others, can boost both utilization rates and outcomes and can provide useful data that could be used, over time, to modify and expand program offering.

Excerpted from Making It Work Better, A Work Family Educational Program


Maine Has New Family Care Law
As of September 17, 2005, Maine employees have the flexibility to use up to 40 hours of already-earned sick or vacation time to care for a child, parent, or spouse. The law applies to businesses with 25 or more employees. The intent is simple: to enable families to take care of their dependents without the risk of losing their jobs.

Paid Sick Days Improve Public Health
A new fact sheet by the Institute for Women's Policy Research shows only 51% of all workers have paid sick days and only 30% have sick days to care for sick children. Paid sick days minimize the spread of the flu. Children recover faster when their parents care for them, reducing health care expenditures. Guaranteeing all workers paid sick days will improve public health by reducing the spread of disease, worker absences, and health-care spending. Access the fact sheet at


The Center for WorkLife Law at U.C. Hastings College of the Law has released a new report, entitled One Sick Child Away From Being Fired: When “Opting Out” Is Not an Option.  The second in a series of reports based on the Center’s studies of union arbitrations, the report shows why it is so important for workers to be unionized:  It documents that due to lack of both public policy and union strength many American workers are one sick child away from being fired.  Millions of American workers are either tag-team families—where dad works one shift and mom works another—or single parents.  These workers have family responsibilities that may make them unable to work overtime on short notice or may require them to leave work to care for a child or elderly parent with or without their employers’ permission.  The report shows that unions offer workers some protection when they need to attend to family responsibilities—protection that American workers sorely need.  By documenting the acute work/family conflicts that most American workers experience, the report shows that work/family issues are core union issues that can play a key role in organizing efforts.  The Center’s study of union arbitrations is an ongoing project, for which it seeks access to other union arbitration databases.  Contact the Center at (415) 565-4640. For a copy of the report and more information, visit

Working Conditions & Family Resources from the ILO
The goal of the International Labour Organization Conditions of Work and Employment Programme is the improvement of working conditions and productivity in the workplace through research, comparative analysis, advocacy and training.  In particular, it looks at issues related to work hours, wages, and work/family issues, from both an international and European perspective. The Programme’s resources include: research and working papers; 3 online databases that contain the current laws on working time, minimum wages, and maternity protection in over 100 countries; and information sheets on key issues such as overtime, part-time work, working time family measures, and various flexible working time arrangements. This information is available from the Programme’s website, at
The ILO is a UN specialized agency focusing on social justice, human and labor rights.

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

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