Labor Family News - Summer 2005

Making the Case for Parental leave
Message from the Executive Director
Time is Money
Work & Family Bill of Rights
Family and Medical Leave is Threatened


Teamsters working for the United Postal Service (UPS) have contract language that allows them to bank up to twenty days of vacation for use the following year to cover unpaid leave taken for reasons related to maternity and/or bonding. (IBT & United Postal Service)


Amalgamated Transit Union Local 843 members have access to three days of parental leave with pay when taking leave due to the birth or placement of a child in the home. Members can also use any accrued vacation and floating holidays during the parental leave period. All paid time taken runs concurrently with FMLA. Members also have the ability to take up to three days of unpaid leave a month, in no smaller than 2-hour increments. This is on a first come, first serve basis and must not create overtime or interfere with the operations of the employer. Members can request longer unpaid leave of absences but must receive the approval of the general manager. They can also use their accumulated sick leave to care for an ill family member or domestic partner. (ATU Local 843 & Whatcom Transportation Authority, Washington State)

Members of The National Council of Field Labor Locals have access to a maternity provision that allows them to use sick leave, annual leave and leave without pay when taking job-protected leave under FMLA. Members may choose what leave they want to use and in what order. After delivery, the member can take additional time to make arrangements for the care of the child by using approved annual leave or leave without pay. Members can also use annual and sick leave or leave without pay for absences associated with adoptions. During this time there is no loss of seniority. (National Council of Field Labor Locals, AFGE & Dept of Labor)


Members of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees (OAPSE) Chapter 151 successfully negotiated the right to use, during the school year, up to fifty days accumulated sick leave to care for an ill spouse, parent, parent-in-law, child (including foster, step and/or exchange student), or live-in relative. Members may also use job-protected, unpaid leave under FMLA to care for the relatives listed in this section. (OAPSE Chapter 151, AFSCME & Hamilton City Board of Education)

By Nikki Dones

Nine years ago, Elizabeth Gomez was working full-time when she became pregnant. When no longer able to work she received six weeks of partial pay under California’s pregnancy disability leave law.

Three years later Elizabeth became pregnant with her second child. She had a different employer; one who understood the importance of maternity leave. This time Elizabeth was able to take 3 months off. While state disability provided her with partial pay for 6 weeks, she was also able to use accrued sick time and vacation to cover the remaining period. “I work for a really good employer who understands the importance of spending time with a new baby,” states Elizabeth. “I was able to get paid and not worry about my job while I was out and that made a big difference.”

While some workers have access to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and a few have access to disability compensation through state laws, most must rely on what is offered at the workplace. Unfortunately, too often workers not covered by a union contract don’t find out about their employer’s policies until the need to take leave arises. Most organized workers have a different experience.

Across the country, labor has successfully negotiated leave language that includes provisions like full pay, job protection, the continuation of benefits, seniority protection and the integration of other paid leaves to help members get paid time off when they have or adopt a child. (see Union News). In a recent study by UCLA, unionized employers were 3.6 times more likely to have benefits beyond what the FMLA requires. For example, San Francisco’s Firefighters union negotiated up to one year of unpaid leave (for both parents) to bond with a new baby. They can integrate accumulated vacation and sick time and they keep their health care coverage. AFSCME members working for the University of Minnesota get 2 weeks paid leave and the ability to take 6 months of unpaid, job-protected leave to bond with a new baby.

Earlier this year, the Economic Journal published a report on the correlation between paid maternity leave and lower infant mortality rates. The study looked at the effects of paid family leave policies in 17 European countries and the United States and found that job-protected, paid leave not only significantly lowered infant mortality rates but also had a positive impact on low birth weight. Unpaid and non-job-protected leave did not result in the same positive outcomes, which suggests that the stress and worry of managing on less money and being unsure of a job have an impact on starting a family.

Parental bonding and its positive effects on newborns has been widely documented and most countries understand and embrace its importance, which is reflected in the maternity leave laws that exist around the world: Africa - 48 countries have paid maternity leave laws, the Americas - 33 countries, Asia - 36 countries, Europe - 37 countries. The United States is one of the few that still needs convincing. Not our unions; they get it.

Sources: Parental Leave and Child Health across OECD Countries, Sakiko Tanaka, Columbia University. Economic Journal, Feb 2005.
Paid Family Leave in California: New Research Findings, Ruth Milkman and Eileen Applebaum, UCLA Institute of Industrial Relations, June 2004.

Message from the Executive Director, Netsy Firestein
Parental Leave Today –Looking Back 20 years

Twenty years ago, when I was working for District 65-UAW in New York City, my daughter Sari was born. Her picture at birth, on the cover of the union newspaper, appears here instead of mine. During my maternity leave, I received disability payments from the state and the union made up the difference between those payments and my full salary. I didn’t know at the time how unusual this was. In 1985 there was no national policy that provided paid leave when you had or adopted a child.

Well 20 years later, it’s not much better. Only five states have state disability insurance which provides benefits for women to “recover from pregnancy”. Fathers, mothers and adoptive parents can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act. California is the only state which provides 6 weeks of partial compensation for bonding with a new child (as well as to care for a sick family member), but a number of other states are working to pass paid leave laws.

We just celebrated Mother’s and Father’s Day and gave parents flowers and cards, but not paid leave to nurture a new child. How little we really support parents and families in this country. Maybe in 20 years, we’ll do better.

Time is Money
By Shelley Waters Boots

Time is money, and these days there doesn’t seem to be enough of either to go around. The new reality in today’s 24/7 economy is that the demands on workers continue to grow, but compensation, benefits and flexibility fail to keep up. Unfortunately, it is not just workers that pay a high price. In this game of long hours, shrinking benefits and stagnating wages, the biggest losers are workers’ children and families.

Let’s get to the heart of the issue: Between 1970 and 2001, the percentage of mothers in the workforce rose from 38 to 67 percent. Compared to 30 years ago, today’s dual-income parents put in one additional month of full-time work each year. So what are the realities that parents and their children face when it comes to balancing work and family?

Well, one in five employees work most of their hours in the evenings, during nights or weekends or on a rotating or highly variable schedule. Nearly 60 percent of wage and salaried employees lack the flexibility they need in their jobs to meet both work and family responsibilities. Being able to control work start and end times, working from home or working part-time with benefits are simply not options for most.

When it comes to a family illness, a school meeting or a snow day at school, many parents wind up paying a financial and personal price to meet their family obligations. Too many parents lack paid time off—including sick leave, vacation time or personal days. A recent study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research confirms that 49 percent of workers lack basic paid sick leave for themselves. Even fewer workers can get time off to care for sick children. Our pro-family Family and Medical Leave Act has its limitations—only 45 percent of parents working in the private sector are eligible to take this unpaid leave, and as few as 5 percent of parents have access to a job that offers paid parental leave.

These trends and the way work is done in America have exacted a steep toll on families and children. What are the costs? Maternal depression—found to significantly harm children’s development—has been linked to the lack of flexibility in the workplace. Studies suggest that children of mothers who were unable to take an extended maternity leave have lower cognitive scores than children whose mothers spent a longer time on leave. Long hours at work have been linked to children’s behavior problems and are tied to poor parenting behavior. For example, a study found that fathers who worked long hours and felt overloaded were less accepting and had less positive relationships with their children.

Children whose parents work nonstandard schedules are worse off than children whose parents work regular hours. For example, studies confirm that children with parents who work nights or evenings have lower reading and math test scores, and adolescents with parents who work nonstandard hours experience more behavioral problems.

Work during nonstandard hours has serious repercussions on another key factor affecting children’s development: marriage. When fathers work nights, separation or divorce is about six times higher than for fathers who work standard hours. When mothers work nights, separation or divorce is three times higher.

Finally, children often suffer from poor-quality child care. As most parents can attest, finding and paying for high-quality child care is a Herculean task. Unfortunately, more than half of all child care settings have been deemed to be of poor or mediocre quality. For another 3.3 million children between the ages of 6 and 12, there is no caregiver at all. They are left home alone while parents work.

Workplaces and public policy have not caught up to these new realities. The burden to adjust and adapt to an inflexible workplace has fallen squarely on the backs of working parents. And the true costs of our outdated employment system are borne by children. If, in fact, policymakers want to address the needs of families and improve outcomes for children, then a package of new policy approaches is critically needed. By promoting better policies on sick leave, parental leave, child care and workplace flexibility, policymakers will go a long way to help families realize a fundamental tenet of the American dream: to be both a good worker and a good parent.

Shelley Waters Boots is Policy Research Director, Work & Family Program at the New America Foundation, a non-profit public policy institute. Their report, “The Way We Work: How Children and Their Families Fare in a 21st Century Workplace” is available at

Originally published at, 2005

Work & Family Bill of Rights

Originally written by the Labor Project and the NYC Central Labor Council, the Work and Family Bill of Rights has been updated by the Take Care Net, a network of advocacy organizations, academics, unions and individuals promoting work family policies. There is now a national campaign for organizations, unions and individuals to sign on and publicize these rights that workers need in order to work and care for their families.

Action Steps:
Post a copy in your union office.

Let members know that the union endorses the Bill of Rights and is committed to addressing work and family issues.

Add the union to the national list of supporters of the Bill of Rights alongside other unions, community organizations and individuals. Visit to sign on.

Families face a shortfall of time and money for care. A majority of America's children have no one at home full-time to care for them, while others, including the elderly and people with disabilities, increasingly need care. Jobs divide employees into those with high pay, benefits, but long hours and little time for family or leisure, and those with low wages, few benefits, and insufficient flexibility and financial resources to care for their families. We can and should do better. Working families have fundamental rights to financially sustain and to care for themselves and their families. These rights include:

1. The right to annual paid family, medical and personal leave for full- and part-time employees. Minimum standards for leave are:
          a. two weeks of employer-funded paid personal leave for all employees to be taken at the time of their choosing.
          b. Seven days of employer-funded sick time for personal or family illness.
          c. 12 weeks of paid leave for parents of newborn, adoptive and foster children, and for serious illness of the employee, a child, a parent or other relative, spouse or partner.
          d. 16 hours of employer-funded leave to be taken in small increments for doctor’s appointments, parent-teacher meetings and other small necessities.
2. The right to negotiated flexibility over work hours and place:
          a. the ability to shift between full-time and reduced hours as family and personal circumstances change.
          b. equal pay rates and at least pro-rated benefits for reduced hours employees.
          c. no mandatory overtime.
          d. flexible schedules and place of work, mutually agreed upon by employees and employers.
3. The right to quality, affordable child and elder care.
4. The right to a minimum wage set at a living wage level and indexed to inflation.
5. The right to adequate health insurance for all.

These rights shall apply to all regardless of gender, race, ethnicity, age, place of birth, religion, sexual orientation, or family, marital or disability status.


The Department of Labor (DOL) plans to issue revised regulations for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). The DOL was originally required to do so because of a recent Supreme Court ruling in the case, Ragsdale v. Wolverine. The ruling requires the DOL to revisit a narrow – though important – portion of the regulations dealing with when employers notify employees about company leave policies. Now, FMLA opponents – the very groups that fought the original passage of the FMLA – are using the occasion to exert strong pressure on the DOL to make broad, sweeping changes to the law. Among these are rollbacks in the rules on serious health condition and intermittent leave. These changes will adversely affect millions of employees, drastically cutting back the illnesses for which employees may take leave and forcing many to take more unpaid leave than they need.


Current Regulations What FMLA Opponents Want How Changes Will Harm
Millions of American Families
Current regulations define a serious health condition, in part, as a condition that requires more than three consecutive days of treatment and recovery. FMLA opponents argue that this is “overbroad” and want the definition of serious health condition to exclude illnesses that require less than 10 days for treatment and recovery. With this change, employees who experience serious illnesses lasting under 10 days could lose their jobs.

For example, an employee with acute appendicitis may not be covered. Untreated, acute appendicitis is life threatening. This employee, with medical treatment, could be back at work in less than 10 days.

Current Regulations What FMLA Opponents Want How Changes Will Harm
Millions of American Families
Currently, FMLA leave may be taken intermittently – as opposed to one continuous block of leave – when medically necessary.

Whatever minimal time unit employers already use for tracking employee leave is the minimal time unit employers must use when allotting FMLA leave.
FMLA opponents want to require that employees take leave for no less than a half-day at a time. This change would force many employees to take unnecessary leave without pay.

Employees who require frequent, short treatments, such as chemotherapy or pre-natal visits, will be forced to spend down their FMLA leave sooner than necessary, leaving them without adequate job-protection for medically necessary treatments and recovery time they require.

This was adapted from the National Partnership for Women and Families. For more information or to get involved with the campaign to preserve the FMLA, contact them at 202-986-2600.

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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