Labor Family News - Summer 2004

Union Retiree Programs
Message from the Executive Director, Netsy Firestein
Healthy Families Act Requires Paid Sick Days
Graduate Students Fight for Child Care at the Bargaining Table
How to get a Flexible Spending Account
AFL-CIO Publishes “Ask A Working Woman” Survey


Mass AFL-CIO Staff Get Paid Family Leave
Staff at the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, represented by OPEIU Local 6, have contract language that entitles them to a maximum of 13 weeks paid leave for the birth and care of a newborn, the placement of an adopted or foster child, the care of a spouse, domestic partner, child or parent who is injured or seriously ill, or for his/her own serious medical condition. Employees taking leave receive 2/3 of their weekly salary and can make up the lost portion with annual leave hours. Employees taking leave due to pregnancy and childbirth receive full pay. Employees continue to receive medical benefits while taking family leave. (OPEIU Local 6 and the Massachusetts AFL-CIO)

Workers win Right to Nurturing Leave
The Public Service Alliance of Canada negotiated with Canada Post Corporation for the right to up to five years of nurturing leave to care for pre-school age children. Members may also take unpaid leave for long-term elder care and for the care of school age children. Employees may take a minimum of four weeks unpaid leave for long term care of parents, spouse’s parents or foster parents, or for the care of children ages 5 – 13. Employees are limited to a total maximum of five years of such leaves during their total period of employment with Canada Post Corporation. (Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Canadian Post Corporation)

Flexible Work Arrangements Halt Layoffs
UNISON, the United Kingdom public employees union, successfully negotiated a comprehensive voluntary flextime policy to combat possible layoffs. The policy includes reduced hours, job shares and the option of working a school year schedule. The union plays a key role in providing information to its members on the pay and pension implications of all the new work arrangements. Reviews take place every three to six months so that any problems are quickly identified and addressed. The new flextime policy has proved popular throughout the workplace. (UNISON and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council)

State Disability and Paid Leaves
SEIU Local 790 has negotiated for the employer to pay state disability premiums, usually paid by employees. State Disability Insurance (SDI) in California pays 55% of salary up to a maximum amount for workers’ own disability, and as of July 1, for paid family leave. The contract also allows members to supplement any disability insurance benefits paid under the SDI program with accumulated sick leave and vacation. Members use their sick or vacation leave to make up the difference between the amount of insurance benefits paid and the normal weekly base pay for each week of disability. (SEIU Local 790 and City of Oakland)

Child Care Workers Get Access to Pre-Tax Program
UAW, representing the Staff at the Bright Horizons Child Care Centers, won the right for members to participate in the IRS Flexible Spending Account. Members pay for covered dependent care expenses using pre-tax money, deducted from their paychecks. (UAW & Bright Horizons Children Centers, Inc.)

Union Retirees: Lifelong Activism Keeps the Union Strong
By Jenya Cassidy

Members of Teamsters Local 237 who weren't even around in 1971 take pride in the fact that the union shut New York City down that year in a dispute with the state over pensions. They talk about it like they were there. They talk about the union’s role in the civil rights movement and seem to know that today’s contract gains were bought with yesterday’s struggles. What is the union doing to foster its members’ pride in its history?

New York Teamsters Local 237, the largest Teamster local in the country, built one of the most active retiree divisions – 7,700 members strong. The oral history project – publishing stories from older and retired members -- informs and inspires new members and keeps the retirees active in the union’s present life. The union also invites retired shop stewards back to mentor new shop stewards. “We say: ‘you retire from the job, not from the union’,” said newly retired member, Doris Welch. “Too many organizations let talent and experience walk out the door when someone retires. Bring them back! They can teach the next generation.”

In addition to mentoring new members, Local 237 retiree division offers a variety of classes from retirement planning seminars to art and theater classes. What sets the division apart from other retiree organizations is the power they get from belonging to the union. “ I like to emphasize that we are a division of the Local.” said Nancy True, Director of the Retiree Division. “We are funded and staffed like the rest of the union -- this is not just a social club for seniors.”

Local 237’s strong commitment to retired members has kept the City from negotiating retiree benefits away, in spite of numerous attempts. Right now, the City pays a negotiated amount per member into the retiree benefit fund. This fund helps pay for benefits such as optical, dental, prescription, hearing aids, pre-paid legal services as well as helping fund the division itself. According to Carl Haynes, President of Local 237, “Every time contract negotiations roll around, the city tries to take away some of our hard-won gains -- retiree health and welfare benefits are always at the top of their list. We keep beating them back and we will continue to do so.”

Local 237 retirees often add their voices to on-going campaigns around issues that affect seniors. They recently joined health care activists in New York to protest Corporate attempts to cut off the supply of affordable drugs from Canada. Seniors and others on a fixed income really depend on these lower cost drugs.

“One thing I’ve learned is that people want to be meaningfully involved – they want to be part of the life of the union,” said Nancy True. Doris Welch agrees, “When I retired, I was looking for something important to do and the union really provided that,” she said. “I had a fire lit under me years ago when I attended a retirement planning seminar. I put what I learned to work and was able to retire at 50. Now I can help other people do the same.” For more information on the Teamsters Local 237 Retiree Division, go to

Message from the Executive Director, Netsy Firestein

California made history on July 1 when most workers in the state became eligible for up to 6 weeks of paid family leave benefits, through the state’s disability insurance program. This means that if a worker takes time off to care for a new baby or newly adopted child, or to care for a seriously ill family member (parent, child, spouse or domestic partner) in California, they can get 55% of their salary up to a maximum of $728 a week. The California Labor Federation sponsored the law and the Labor Project played a large role in organizing the coalition that helped pass it. A newly released survey by UCLA reports that while 22% of those surveyed have never heard of the new benefit, 85% are in favor of paid family leave. The good news for unions is that unionized employers are almost 4 times as likely to provide paid family leave! Unions and advocates in California are working to make sure workers know about paid family leave. Unions have partnered with community groups in other states to pass similar laws.

Healthy Families Act Requires Paid Sick Days

The Healthy Families Act, co-sponsored by Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-CT.) would require businesses with 15 or more employees to provide seven paid sick days annually. The leave could be used to meet the employee’s own medical needs or to allow him or her to care for the medical needs of a family member. “Most Americans assume that paid sick days are a right. They’re not. Hardworking men and women deserve better than that in this day and age. This bill is a first step to guarantee that every worker who needs sick leave can afford to take it,” said Senator Kennedy.

In a new report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, Study Director Vicky Lovell found that half of all workers -- over 59 million --have no paid sick leave, while even more -- nearly 86 million -- do not have paid sick leave to care
for sick kids. Full-time workers, those in the public sector, and union members have the best sick leave coverage, while part-timers and low-wage workers have very poor access to paid sick leave.

The report reviews research showing that paid sick leave improves health outcomes and reduces employers' overall absence and turnover. Being able to take paid sick leave
to care for sick children helps kids get well faster while preventing parents' job loss. Options for making it easier for workers to take care of their own, and their families', health needs include increasing coverage by paid leave policies, changing corporate cultures so workers feel comfortable taking needed sick leave, and expanding flexible work-hours arrangements. For a copy of the report, go to . For a new report by the National Partnership on Women and Families on laws governing sick leave, go to

Graduate Students Fight for Child Care at the Bargaining Table
By Amy Hines, UAW 2322 Bargaining Committee

When the Graduate Employee Organization, UAW 2322, at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst went into contract negotiations this past February, they knew that child care issues would require a fight. Sarah James, the GEO family issues advocate had been gathering parent testimonies to use across the table. “These parents won’t be able to afford an extra fee,” she explained “but it will be difficult to keep the UCC [University Child Care Center] at all. We will have to organize to make child care a priority for the University during budget cuts.”

UMass didn’t propose to completely close the UCC, but it did levy a slew of regressive proposals targeting parents as a source of revenue. The most pressing proposal was to open the possibility of privatizing the University Center. Not only did the University propose to absolve itself from the responsibility of providing child care on campus, but the administration is seeking to impose fees for child care. The current childcare arrangement allows students to apply for vouchers that waive the entire cost. This proposal is the equivalent to a 56% pay cut for graduate student parents. Instead of paying nothing, they would be paying $140.00 per paycheck for child care.

With raises looking bleak, mandatory fees rising, graduate student housing costs soaring, and other new fees, the additional child care costs will be financially devastating to parents at UMass. The union has set out a three month action plan to keep the bargaining committee focused on the fight for child care through the summer. When graduate students return in the fall, they will be ready.

By Nicola Dones

What is a Flexible Spending Account?
The flexible spending account benefit is a government-designed program that uses untaxed income to help offset the cost of child care and uncovered medical expenses, including co-payments, for you and your family.

How Does it Work?
An amount of money, decided by you, is deducted from your paycheck every pay period and placed in your flexible spending account. The deduction is made BEFORE taxes are calculated. When you incur a child care or health care expense covered by the program, you are reimbursed from your account with untaxed money.

For example:
John and Mary have 2 children and both work full-time. The total household income is $45,000. They use a flexible spending account using pre-tax wages to pay for child care & health care expenses, which total $375 each month. By taking advantage of the flexible spending account, John and Mary have an extra $143.75 a month, or $1,725 a year in spendable income. (see table)

How Much Should I Put Into My Flexible Spending Account?
This is a pre-tax program administered by your employer under strict IRS guidelines. At the beginning of each plan year you will decide on the amount to be deducted each pay period. Money placed into the account can only be used for covered expenses incurred within the calendar year. Unused money will not be refunded to you. Be sure to calculate your annual amount carefully. You may want to deduct a small amount the first year while you get comfortable using a flexible spending account.

For example:
Mike is a single parent and earns $28,000 per year. His childcare expenses vary from $220 to $320 per month. Mike decides that he can put $260 of pre-taxed money into his dependent care flexible spending account each month. This will cover most of his child care expenses and ensure no money is left in his account by the end of the year. By participating in the program, he saves $92.50 per month, $1,110 a year.

How Do I Calculate Medical Expenses?
It is impossible to calculate all out-of-pocket medical expenses you may incur during the year because you cannot anticipate future health care problems. However, it is possible to estimate a minimum amount to deduct, especially if you or a dependent have co-pays for regular prescriptions or ongoing visits to the doctor or dentist, or uncovered expenses like braces or prescription glasses. Before deciding the amount, be sure to review the complete list of covered expenses, available from your HR department.

Can Everyone Participate?
Your employer must offer the benefit before you can participate. Unions have successfully negotiated for participation in flexible spending accounts through the bargaining contract. The only cost to the employer is minimal administrative costs.
For more information, visit

Covered medical expenses for you and your dependents include:
co-pays, uncovered prescription charges, dental charges, orthodontic expenses, eye exams, acupuncture, some over the counter medications, and parking fees incurred while seeking medical treatment.

Dependent care expenses include: licensed child care centers and family day care providers, nursery schools, caregivers for a disabled dependent.

AFL-CIO Survey Focuses on Working Women

The AFL-CIO 2004 “Ask A Working Woman” survey, the fourth in a series, confirms that working women are the main bread winners or contribute the majority of their families’ incomes, and many work irregular hours and shifts different than their spouses or partners. Finding and keeping a job with basic benefits in today’s economy is the leading concern of working women. . Nearly half—48% —of working women say they have been out of work in the past year or have a family member or close friend who has been out of work. One-quarter to one-third of employed women lack basic benefits including affordable health insurance, prescription drug coverage, pension or retirement benefits, equal pay and paid sick leave. Rising health costs are the biggest worry for working women, leading to a dramatic increase in support for laws to make health care more affordable since 2000. To see the full report, go to

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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