Labor Family News - Spring 2008

It's About Family Time
Women Make Unions Strong
Unions Win It!
Did You Know.?

It's About Family Time:
U.S. presidential candidates focus on work family balance


2008 is an exciting year for work and family:  A wave of labor community coalitions are aggressively organizing across the country to increase funding for child care to assist working parents, pass paid family leave legislation to allow workers to bond with a new child or care for a seriously ill family member and win paid sick days legislation to guarantee workers paid time off to care for themselves and their family members when they are ill. Because of union and community activism, politicians are finally starting to pay attention to work family issues.

Women at a Rally
Rally in support of paid sick days, Washington, D.C.
(Photo by Andy Richards/Metro Washington Council, AFL-CIO)

Work Family Issues: A Priority for Politicians?

Work family issues are gathering momentum and can no longer be ignored.  A national survey reports that 89% of U.S voters favor a paid sick days mandate and 76% favor paid family leave (2007 - Lake Research Partners).  Members of Congress are getting the message: Senator Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and colleagues introduced the Family Leave Insurance Act, a federal paid family leave bill and Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA) and Congresswoman Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT) are pushing for the passage of the Healthy Families Act, a federal paid sick days bill.  As politicians and the media pay more attention to these issues, they become more prominent in the 2008 presidential campaign.

Last year, Take Care Net sent a Candidate Survey to the 12 major contenders in the presidential primaries to gauge their support for policies that balance work and family (to see the full survey go to ).  The majority of Democratic candidates, including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, responded to the survey while none of the Republican candidates did.  Both Senators support a better work family balance and have incorporated it into their platforms.

. Unions helped to pass Paid Family Leave laws in California and Washington.  Now seven states are currently pushing for similar legislation. 
. In 2006, San Francisco passed a law mandating employers to provide paid sick days. Washington, D.C. passed a similar law in March 2008. This year, over a dozen states introduced legislation.
. Labor community coalitions in 11 states are actively organizing around paid leave and paid sick days.

To get an update on which states and cities are mobilizing around these issues, and how your union can get involved, visit the National Partnership for Women and Families' website: 

Holding Candidates Accountable

"If people continue to raise these issues in blogs, letters to the editor and any possible medium, we will have a much better chance of getting the issues higher on the agenda come 2009," says Robert Drago, Professor of Labor Studies and Women's Studies at Penn State University and co-founder of Take Care Net.

According to Professor Drago, regardless of who wins the presidency, it's important for unions and advocacy groups to keep building the momentum on these issues at the local and national level.  Political support and endorsements during the presidential race can be leveraged by ensuring that candidates support work family balance issues and that they commit to making these a priority when they get to the White House in 2009.

If these efforts are successful, the United States will finally advance toward joining other developed and developing nations in doing what's right for working families- help them to be both good employees and good caregivers. 

Women Make Unions Strong:
Seven Strategies to Bring More Women into Leadership


Even in 2008, when we talk about a union leader, the image that often comes to mind is a man -- not a woman. 

According to a new report by the Institute for Women's Policy Research, while the number of women in unions continues to increase, they are still vastly underrepresented in union leadership.  The report, I Knew I Could Do This Work, funded by the Berger-Marks Foundation, explains why this is so and outlines strategies for unions to use in promoting women's leadership.

Seven Strategies for Building Women Leaders

#1: Address Women's True Priorities: If unions more visibly address women's concerns, they are more likely to inspire their long-term, active involvement.

#2: Create and Support Formal Mentoring Programs: Mentoring could be more intentionally incorporated into union organizing as a way to build women's leadership.

#3: Provide Opportunities for Women to Strategize Together:  Unions can cultivate women-specific training programs, conferences, and networks at the local, regional and national levels.

#4: Put Women in Leadership:  Placing women in visible local and national leadership roles provides role models and articulates respect for their authority.

#5: Highlight the Importance of Women's Contributions:  Unions can provide examples of women's current and past union leadership as models for what union women can accomplish.

#6: Provide Flexible Options for Involvement:  To accommodate the conflicting demands of women's lives, unions can offer creative opportunities to get involved.

#7: Provide Training on Mobilizing Women:  Unions can train their leaders and organizers on strategies that effectively inspire women's activism and promote their leadership.

Obstacles to Women's Involvement

"Unions are good for women workers, but they could be much better at promoting women into leadership positions," says Amy Caiazza, the report's author. According to the report, women experience a wide range of obstacles to their union-based activism.  Among these are women's lack of visibility in leadership; the fear of retribution as a result of women's activism; discomfort with conflict and public roles; unions' neglect of  women workers' priorities; the time demands of union work; gender bias within unions; and lack of awareness of what unions do.

While women now comprise about 44% of all union members, the report points out that "in no case does the proportion of women in leadership equal the proportion in membership."  Changing this dynamic could benefit the labor movement as a whole:  as unions ramp up their organizing efforts in traditionally female-dominated industries, women lead organizers have the highest success rates in winning certification elections. (Professor Kate Bronfenbrenner, Cornell University 2005)

"Unions are missing the boat on this - women are the majority of our new members and we really need to tap into this resource for new leadership," says Yvonne Syphax, Assistant Director of the Women's Department, AFSCME.  Ros Pelles, Director of the AFL-CIO Department of Civil, Human and Women's Rights, agrees: "We have to bring women into leadership for obvious reasons -- nearly half of union members are women and they need to see themselves as leaders in order to become activists and build the union."

Focus on Women's Priorities

According to activists interviewed in the IWPR report, one way to promote women's leadership is to organize around issues that are most important to women.  For example, balancing work and family often comes up with women workers but is not often treated as the main issue in an organizing campaign.  Emphasizing ways the union can help with this would attract more women.

The time-consuming nature of the work is another obstacle to women's activism. As the report states, "Traditionally, union activism has required long hours and substantial time away from home."  According to the report's author, these expectations are modeled after traditional male workers - single or with a non-working spouse who can care for the children. As more women with the primary caregiving responsibilities are called on to play an active role in building the labor movement, unions need to offer creative ways to foster and encourage this involvement. As one organizer interviewed by the report states, "You have to meet people where they live.  You can't expect them to drop their lives and just do what's convenient for the union."

There are many ways to involve members with family responsibilities.  Some unions welcome children and provide
child care.  Most provide the evening meal to make it easier to attend meetings right after work.  The most important thing is not sticking to one model of involvement because it is what has always worked.

Women Need to Get Involved

The report argues that it is important for the economic health of women and to the overall viability of the labor movement to bring more women into leadership positions.  IWPR says that on a basic level, unions are good for women workers:  "Unionized women earn 30% more than non-unionized women, and union workers have more paid leave and are more likely to have health insurance.  As more and more women work, their wages, benefits and job characteristics have far-reaching impact on their families and communities."

Ann Worth, President of Sign and Display, Local 510 in Northern California, agrees that unions need to consciously put effort into preparing the next generation of women union members to lead:  "We will run out of quality leaders if we don't double the pool by preparing women and youth to lead their unions," she says.

The IWPR report encourages unions to adopt their seven strategies including providing training on how to organize more women and train them to take leadership.  Promoting more women to leadership positions can build the union, the labor movement and lead to more women taking leadership in other areas of public life including politics.

Deborah Lobao




Teamsters, Local 896 member Deborah Lobao sits proudly on her Harley.  She was elected Chief Shop Steward in January -- the first woman to hold this position since her workplace was unionized in 1943. (Photo by Tiffany Lobao)





WHAT: Paid Mentoring Leave
WHERE: California
WHO: CSEA Local 1000/SEIU & State of California
Eligible state employees who are members of CSEA Local 1000/SEIU can receive up to 40 hours of paid time off per calendar year as "mentoring leave" to participate in the mentoring of a child or youth through a qualified mentoring organization.  In order to be eligible the employee must have a permanent appointment, sign on to the program for a minimum of one school year and have used an equal amount of their personal time (vacation, personal day etc.) for these activities.         

WHAT: Physical Well Being Program
WHERE: Philadelphia, PA
WHO: UFCW Local 1776 & Participating Employers Health & Welfare Fund
UFCW Local 1776 and Participating Employers Health & Welfare Fund Trustees have negotiated a Physical Well Being Program to help union members achieve a healthy life. Fund participants can get reimbursed for using fitness facilities, smoke cessation programs, weight loss programs, golf and swim club memberships, and receiving martial arts instruction. The fund pays an allowance of up to $300 for individual membership or $500 for family member- ships per calendar year at participating centers or up to $250 for individual and family membership at non-participating centers. 

WHAT: Back Up Child Care Program 
WHERE: Various Locations
WHO: UAW & Bright Horizons Children Centers, Inc 
Employees of the Bright Horizons Children Centers, Inc. represented by the UAW can access back-up childcare in National Access Program (NAP) participating centers, at a discounted cost for up to twenty days
per year.

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


FACT:   On the eve of International Women's Day - March 8, 2008 - the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) reported that women around the world are still paid an average of 16% less than their male work colleagues. 

FACT:  Nordic countries are winning the race to reduce the gender gap.  In Norway a new law says 40% of directors on public company boards must be women.  Minneapolis Star Tribune, 1-8-08


FMLA expanded for military families  In January 2008, President Bush amended the Family Medical Leave Act to provide job protection to the families of U.S. soldiers who have been injured in the service or who are on active duty. Effective immediately, an employee who is the next of kin of a covered seriously injured service member is eligible for 26 weeks of unpaid job protected leave to care for the service member. The law also states that employers must grant 12 weeks of job protected unpaid leave for an employee who has a "qualifiying exigency" as a result of a spouse, son, daughter or parent being on active duty or being notified of an approaching order to active duty.   This clause will be in effect following the issuance of government regulations defining "qualifying exigency."


CWA and AFSCME Organize Child Care Providers
In our Fall 2007 newsletter, we featured a story, "New Jersey Child Care Workers Win Landmark Contract" and credited CWA with the organizing victory.  In fact, AFSCME and CWA worked together to organize the home-based child care providers and now represent them in a joint local.

Great Resources

The Lattice Group is a new, grassroots organization that engages young people in a public dialogue about the issues that arise when trying to balance personal, family, and work obligations in a globalized economy. The website uses a blog format to compare work life balance in multiple countries with the goal of raising awareness about alternative career models. For more information go to

VITAL Statistic

Vital Statistic
(Click image to open PDF PDF)


Well it looks like we finally have some real momentum on policies that "strengthen our rights as workers to put families first." This is our tag line for our 15th year and I think it conveys the work we have been doing and still need to do.  But there is progress - as our cover story outlines, there have been exciting victories recently:  California passed paid
family leave in 2002, San Francisco passed the first paid sick days law in 2006 (let me brag a bit about my adopted state!); Washington state passed paid parental leave in 2007; now the east coast is quickly catching up:  Washington D.C. became the second place in the country to pass a paid sick days law and New Jersey's legislature will be voting soon on paid family leave.  Phew!  I think we've really turned a corner and built a movement that will truly value families. 
And women leaders in the labor movement -- my daughter, whose baby picture was once reprinted in this newsletter, just went to work as a staff representative for a union. It's an interesting new perspective for me. I hope that she represents a "new wave" of feminism -- young women that will bring their strong opinions, creativity and passion for social justice to a newly invigorated labor movement. Like many institutions, unions need to make way for this new wave of leadership in order to become stronger and better for all workers.


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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