Labor Family News - Spring 2007

What Do We Want? Paid Leave!
The Infant Care Crisis: What Can Unions Do?
Unions Win It!
Did You Know.?

State by State, Unions Lead the Fight for Paid Family Leave


Across the country, state by state, a movement is growing to win Paid Family Leave for more working families.  Since the Family and Medical Leave Act passed in 1993, more than 50 million American workers have taken unpaid job-protected leave.  Unfortunately, millions of workers can't afford to take time off without a paycheck.  In 2002, California became the first state to provide paid family leave to workers to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member.

The California Labor Federation led the state movement for paid leave in 2002.  Now, unions and labor federations are building strong coalitions to win similar rights in other states.  Mark Watson from CWA Local 1034 in New Jersey said that it's important for unions to get involved in the fight for paid leave because "when family members have a serious illness, the mortgage bill must be paid. The heating bill is still due. Food must be put on the table. Many union members cannot afford to make the right choice, and they must keep going to work and paying those bills."

Since California's victory, unions have played a key role in building support for paid leave in various states.  The following are a few states where unions are helping to gain momentum on paid leave. In Illinois, the Labor Federation mobilized union members to send postcards to legislators in support of paid leave.  In New Jersey, unions have been critical to moving paid leave legislation forward in both the House and the Senate. In New York, the union-led coalition and the Working Families Party, whose affiliates include many of the state's largest labor unions, are lobbying legislators and implementing a field and media campaign to build support among their members.  In Washington state, unions are mobilizing their members to call and lobby legislators to pass paid family leave legislation for Washington families.

Kate Kahan, from the National Partnership for Women and Families, recognizes the importance of union involvement to win paid leave, "When labor unions play an active role in fighting for paid leave, they help their members to have the opportunity to care for their family and still be able to put bread on the table."  

New Legislation to Expand FMLA

All of this grassroots activity will support the federal legislation introduced by Senator Christopher Dodd (D-Connecticut).  Senator Dodd's legislation aims to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to allow eligible employees to take at least six weeks of paid leave to care for a newborn or seriously ill family member.  In Senator Dodd's words, "Now more than ever, millions of workers need to be able to take care of their young children and their aging parents. No worker should be penalized for caring for their family."

Get Involved

You can make history in your state by speaking out and supporting paid family leave.  For more information on how you and/or your union can get involved in the fight for paid family leave in your state go to:

Paid Family Leave

National Partnership for Women and Families

For more information on Senator Dodd's bill:

What Can Unions Do?


The joy that Judy and Charley Blanche felt at the birth of their second child was somewhat dampened by the knowledge that Judy had less than six weeks to bond with her baby and find suitable child care before returning to work. "It feels like a dark cloud is hanging over me," she said.  "I looked for a child care center that would take both the new baby and our two-year-old but there were no slots for infants anywhere we could afford."  Judy, a sales manager in Boston, got pregnant less than two months into her current job and, therefore, did not qualify for the 12 weeks of job protection under the Family and Medical Leave Act.  "I'm getting scared.  We need my income but I'm having doubts that we'll find something acceptable by the time I need to go back."

The National Association of Child Care Resource and Referral Agencies Report, "Breaking the Piggy Bank," claims the high price of infant care forces parents to compromise often on the quality of care their children receive. Studies show that high quality care; care that is safe, stable and developmentally appropriate, is vital for future success in school and fewer social and behavioral problems. According to child development specialist, Helen Neville BS, RN, one-on-one attention and intimate connection is essential for an infant's positive development.  But what if only a small segment of society can afford to stay home or pay for quality care?

"I decided on a center because I loved it.  It was in a great location, very clean, great quality. Then, they told me the price and I flew out of there!  Three hundred dollars a week - I can't do that!"          
-- Mother from Washington D.C. (NACCR&R Report)

"Now because of the unions, a lot of these parents spend half of what they used to spend on child care."
-- Moira Dolan

Unions Get Involved

Most parents, like the Blanches, approach the high cost of child care as a personal problem.  But in New York City, the lack of affordable, quality child care became such a crisis for working parents that unions began to take action.  A group of unions including SEIU 1199, AFSCME, CWA, TWU, UFT and many others formed a coalition to fight for subsidies for low income parents, more centers to increase capacity and paid family leave to help parents stay home longer to bond with newborn babies.

What pushed the unions to focus on child care?  According to Ralph Palladino, 2nd Vice President of Local 1549, DC 37, AFSCME, it happened for AFSCME when they started looking beyond the "top four" bargaining issues - wages, job security, pension and benefits.  "I got involved (in the child care issue) when I noticed that so many members were brought up on charges for missing work due to child care problems.  People couldn't find affordable care, their children were sick or their provider left. Management didn't want to hear it and people were getting written up."

Moira Dolan, Assistant Director of Research for DC 37 said, "I started looking at our demographics and noticed that a large percentage of members had dependents born between 1994 and 2007.  You know that child care plays a big role in these families' finances."  The New York Union Child Care Coalition was instrumental in the successful campaign to win state child care subsidies for union members by increasing the amount of money a family could make and still be eligible.  "Now because of the unions, a lot of these parents spend half of what they used to spend on child care."

A Child Care Center for Members

The union opened a child care center for its members at Bellevue hospital in New York City.  Lillian Roberts, Executive Director of DC 37, sees the center as a model for the rest of the country.  "What better way to lighten the load for our members than to provide a quality, affordable and safe child care center right where they work?" she said.  "We know that the European industrial democracies, such as France, Sweden and Germany, dedicate substantial resources towards providing child care to aid their citizens who do the hard work of nurturing the next generation."

Like many work and family issues, finding child care can seem like a personal problem:  a family either has the money for top quality or it doesn't.  After working with the Coalition to secure quality child care for more families, Lillian Roberts of DC 37 sees it differently:  "The union's ultimate goal is for safe, clean affordable child care to be available to every family that needs it.  This is not a wild-eyed dream:  We know it can be done."

Here's how unions can help members with child care:

1) Educate:  Make information on local child care resource and referral agencies and quality child care available to members. 

2) Bargain:  Get child care assistance from employers - parents can't work without it.  Many unions have done this successfully.

3) Advocate for state assistance for low income members:  Work with child care advocates on state and national policies that help low income families with child care costs. 

4) Lobby for paid family leave: Promote the expansion of FMLA and paid family leave in your state.  Child care advocates worked alongside union activists to pass California's paid leave law.

For more information, go to our website:


WHAT: Supplemental Family Emergency Leave
WHERE: Amherst, Massachusetts
WHO: UAW Local 2322 & University of Massachusetts at Amherst

Graduate student employees working for the University of Massachusetts at Amherst can submit an application to their supervisor and get family emergency leave for up to ten weeks. The reasons for family emergency leave must be limited to "major, emergency, non-medical family care needs" including domestic break-up, flight from domestic abuse, and the unexpected arrival of a child.

WHAT: Moms Bring Infants to Work
WHERE: Denver, Colorado
WHO: Colorado AFL-CIO

The Colorado AFL-CIO offers a progressive child care policy for its staff that allows a new mother to bring her infant to work. The policy is implemented on an individual, case-by-case basis and it accommodates infants up to the age of one. The policy was instituted to prevent stress for the mother that would "interfere with the natural bonding process as well as with productivity while at work."

WHAT: Adoption Subsidies
WHERE: St. Paul, Minnesota
WHO: IBT Local 1145 & Honeywell, Inc

Regular full-time and part-time employees of Honeywell, Inc can get reimbursed up to a maximum of $3000 per child for "actual and reasonable expenses incurred" as a direct result of an adoption. The reimbursable adoption expenses include fees charged by the adoption agency, placement service, attorney, and other required legal expenses. Employees can also get reimbursed if they incur charges for any physical examination required from their adoption source or if they have agreed to cover medical/pregnancy expenses of the child's natural mother prior to the child's birth.

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


GOOD FOR THEM!  While falling birthrates and aging populations threaten to undermine economies across much of Europe, French fertility rates are at 1.94 children born per woman and rising.  It's all about the government's incentives that include a three-year paid parental leave with guaranteed job protection, universal full-time preschool starting at age three, subsidized child care for infants, stipends for nannies and child care allowances that increase with the number of children per family.  Says one French advocate, "In other places, it's work or children; in France, it's work and children." Washington Post 10/18/06


MORE FLIGHT ATTENDANTS MAY TAKE FMLA.  Flight attendants often do not qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) because of the way their on duty hours are calculated by the airlines.  In order to qualify to take FMLA, an employee must work a minimum of 1,250 hours in a 12 month period.  However flight crews' hours are calculated from when they are on the plane and in the air -- not on the ground waiting.  This means that many work hours are not counted and some flight attendants are being denied their FMLA leave.  Fortunately, Congressman Rob Andrews (D-NJ) is introducing legislation to amend the act to reduce the minimum hours needed for FMLA to 540 for flight crews.

DID You Know.?

FACT: Women who take two vacations a year are 50 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who vacation rarely or not at all.  Men cut their risk by 30 percent, according to the Framingham Heart Study.

FACT: It's about fatigue.  The incidence of work-related illness or injury is raised 61% by overtime schedules.  Going to 12-hour days cause 37% jump in illness and injury and working a 60-hour week as opposed to a 40-hour week can cause a 23% jump in work-related health problems.  From "The impact of overtime" A E Dembe, J B Erickson, R G Delbos and S M Banks


LIFE OUT OF BALANCE:   The college-aged daughter of Bob Drago left her job at a child care center in favor of a job walking a dog because it paid $2 an hour more. Drago, an economist and work/life expert relates this story in his latest book, "Striking a Balance: Work, Family, Life." He uses this example to illustrate one of the many ways our lives are out of balance.  He challenges our beliefs about women, care-giving and work and provides a roadmap to put our lives and society as a whole back on track.  To order a copy, go to

VITAL Statistic

Vital Statistic
(Click to open PDF)


HISTORIAN RUTH ROSEN SAYS SHE DOESN'T GET DISCOURAGED BECAUSE SHE KNOWS THAT CHANGE DOES HAPPEN, BUT IT HAPPENS SLOWLY.  It took 70 years for women to get the right to vote.  So it may take a long time for us to get paid family leave, universal high quality child care and changes in the workplace that will allow workers to earn a living and care for their families.  In a recent article in The Nation, Rosen calls this the "care crisis" and encourages us to name the problem to make it a collective not a private problem.

 The "Care Crisis" is real: I recently got a call from a union member who is the sole caregiver for his disabled brother. When he was unable to work overtime because he had no advance notice, he was written up by his employer. A simple change in the overtime rules would have made all the difference.

California passed paid family leave in 2002.  Several states have now introduced similar legislation and Senator Dodd has introduced a bill in Congress.  Maybe 2007 will be the year we move a step closer. I'm confident that change will happen - though hopefully it won't take us 70 years!



Send ideas, news and comments to

Netsy Firestein

Jenya Cassidy

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

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Phone (510) 643-7088
Fax: (510) 642-6432

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