Labor Family News - Summer 2007

Defend Immigrant Families
Caring for an Aging America
Unions Win It!

Join the Union Fight Against ICE Raids


When is my mother coming home? Where is my dad?  Have you seen my wife, my husband? These are the questions uttered by many distressed family members left behind after the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids.  Those who have been detained and/or deported are mothers, fathers, and others who have the responsibility of providing for and keeping families together in the U.S.  The raids have ripped families apart leaving traumatized children stranded at school and child care centers waiting for mom or dad to pick them up.  Many of these men and women who were separated from their families and their job are union members who believe in a better life through collective action. While Congress continues debating the fate of over 12 million undocumented workers, labor unions and community organizations address the immediate impact of the ICE raids on workers and their families once they are separated.


The ICE raids not only separate families; they weaken unions representing undocumented workers.  Luis Espinoza, organizer with the UFCW, says "the December Swift & Company Meatpacking plant raids affected over 1000 UFCW members in 5 plants across the country.  The raids not only weakened the union because we lost members, but they hurt the community, families and the local economy."  The raids caught UFCW members, union staff and the entire labor movement by surprise.  Workers didn't even have a chance to authorize family members or neighbors to pick up their kids from school or to leave money for their families. The UFCW fights the ICE raids by creating support networks, legal services and raising funds.  They've also been instrumental in getting workers in touch with families.

The fear generated by these raids has affected organizing campaigns around the country. For example, when hotel workers in Emeryville, California organized to enforce a new living wage measure, management at Woodfin Suites, one of the larger hotels, told workers that they must re-submit their work authorization documents.  According to Brooke Anderson, Organizing Director at East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (EBASE), this never happened before.  "Workers believe that this was an attempt to intimidate them and discourage them from organizing to demand their rights," she said. Despite the fear, Woodfin workers continue to organize around a living wage.  EBASE, ILWU, AFSCME, SEIU, UFCW and other unions have helped workers stay strong by supporting the rallies, filing legal suits, and finding creative ways to enforce the law. 

Regardless of the outcome of the current immigration debate, hard working people and their families continue to suffer from the actions and threats of the ICE.  Whether a worker is documented or not, they should be able to join a union, earn decent wages, have safe working conditions and benefits.  These are essential rights and benefits that will help workers and their families stay out of poverty and build stronger and economically stable communities.


  • Contact your local union to find out what they are doing and how to get involved.
  • Contact the National Immigration Law Center  (NILC) at or Unity Blueprint for Immigration Reform to find out how you can help.

Unions Step Up


6:00 A.M. in San Francisco, CA:  Helen Wong, a full-time housekeeper at the Marriott Hotel, leaves home for her early morning shift. Every morning Helen wishes she could check in on her old and frail mother-in-law who lives close by. But it is too early and Helen has to be at work on time. Her 83-year-old mother-in-law is unable to walk unaided and also suffers from high blood pressure. In the Chinese community, a daughter-in-law is responsible for the care of her mother-in-law. Helen visits her mother-in-law after work every day, taking her groceries and keeping her company. However, she worries about leaving her mother-in-law alone all day. Helen is among the growing number of middle-aged workers in the United States today who face the task of caring for their older relatives.

The American population is aging, living longer and becoming more dependent on family members for day-to-day care and assistance. By 2030, one out of five people in the U.S. will be aged 65 or older, making us a nation with the third largest older population in the world following India and China.

Caring for an elderly dependent may include a wide range of responsibilities such as looking after the dependent's personal needs (washing, dressing, eating); financial needs (paying bills, bank deposits); household needs (shopping, cooking, cleaning, laundry); and transportation needs (rides to and from the doctor and/or hospital).

By 2008, over 65% Americans under the age of 60 are expected to become caregivers for elders. As the baby boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) get older, the "sandwich generation" of American workers will find themselves dealing with the increased pressure of providing care for their aging relatives, in addition to their children.

"With the monthly benefit I receive from the [Child and Elder Care] Fund, I am able to pay someone to clean up my mother-in- law's house and check in on her periodically throughout the day. This gives me great peace of mind because I know she is safe and is being cared for."
- Helen Wong, UNITE HERE Local 2

"I  was torn between  my job and family in Boston and taking care of my mother in Toronto.. it made me experience first hand what it means to be part of the sandwich generation."
- Monica Halas, UAW 2320

Almost one in five caregivers provide 40 or more hours of informal care per week, and at least one-third of caregivers provide care for five years or longer. It is estimated that in caring for an elderly relative, a worker may suffer an average loss over a lifetime of more than $600,000 in wages, pension and Social Security benefits.

A majority of the caregivers work full time and often end up going to work late, leaving work early, taking time off during the day, or missing work to provide elder care. Some workers have to use their vacation and sick time for care-giving.

Monica Halas, UAW 2320 member and Vice President of the Massachusetts AFL-CIO, recollects caring for her late mother: "I was torn between my job and family in Boston and taking care of my mother [who had severe osteoporosis] in Toronto.. it made me experience first hand what it means to be part of the sandwich generation."
Monica had a supportive boss, union protection, and the support of her immediate colleagues as she cared for her mother. However, the clients Monica represents as an attorney at the Greater Boston Legal Services were not as fortunate. "Many of our clients - especially our immigrant clients - who returned home to care for an ill parent or close relative, came back to find out that they had been fired. It has even been difficult to secure unemployment benefits for folks in this situation," she informs.

Unions can fight for careworn workers by bringing elder care issues to the bargaining table. "We have bargaining rights and resources that allow us to carve out solutions for our members that relieve the stress and strain of care-giving situations," says Leeann Anderson of the United Steelworkers (USW).

One such creative solution is the Child and Elder Care Fund for hotel employees negotiated by Helen Wong's union UNITE HERE Local 2. The Fund helps offset non-reimbursed expenses incurred by workers in caring for a spouse, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, or domestic partner. The benefit has been a blessing for Helen. "With the monthly benefit I receive from the Fund, I am able to pay someone to clean up my mother-in-law's house and check in on her periodically throughout the day. This gives me great peace of mind because I know she is safe and is being cared for," she says.

Through contract negotiations, the Steelworkers have been able to expand the Family and Medical Leave Act to include caring for the elderly even when it does not qualify as a serious health condition.  The Union has also been attempting to negotiate dependent care surveys and task forces in union contracts so that USW locals and local management can use the surveys to craft solutions that fit the needs of the membership. 

Unions like the UAW, IBEW and CWA have successfully negotiated elder care resource and referral services for their members. Other unions have bargained for family leave (paid or unpaid) and flexible work options for members who provide dependent care.

Undoubtedly, unions are reaching out to workers dealing with elder care issues. But more efforts are needed. "Labor needs to take a much more visible role in protecting the rights of workers to also be responsible family members. It is not enough to bargain for wages - labor needs to recognize is impossible to keep the job you need if it doesn't allow you the flexibility to also care for those you love," says Monica Halas.

Leeann Anderson sees this as a moral issue that unions are uniquely capable of giving voice to. "As our parents and elders age, we are morally obligated to respect and honor them through adequate care and to reciprocate their care for us when we were children. It is part of the societal safety net that unions have been in the forefront of crafting," she says.

Here are some types of contract provisions unions have negotiated to help members address their elder care needs:

Resource and Referral Services:  Match care providers with appropriate elder care resource and services. 

Pre-Tax Programs: Establish a tax-free flexible spending account for dependent/elder care expenses.

Elder Care Fund: Provide direct cash payments or reimbursement for elder care expenses. 

Support Services: Provide information and suppot services for retired members and their families.

Long Term Care Insurance: Help workers pay for long-term care for self or dependents including spouse or parent.

Sick Time for Family Members: Enable workers to use their accumulated sick leave to care for sick dependents.

Flextime Options: Enable workers to use their accumulated sick leave to care for sick dependents.

Sample contract language available at

For more information, call (510) 643-7088 or email


WHAT: Holiday and Summer Camp Program
WHERE: New York, NY
WHO: 1199SEIU and Multiple Employers
Benefits in the 1199/Employer Child Care Fund include a Holiday and Summer Camp Program for the children of union members. The Fund contracts with local holiday camps during school breaks throughout the year. During summer holidays, parents can enroll their children (including special needs children) in local summer camps for a small co-payment that is based on income and number of dependents.      

WHAT: Discontinuing Mandatory Overtime
WHERE: California
WHO: Coalition of Kaiser Permanente Unions & Medical Care Program
The labor-management partnership at Kaiser Permanente agreed to discontinue mandatory overtime practices to enable employees to have a stable schedule and achieve work/life balance. The overall goal of this agreement is to "avoid mandatory assignment of unwanted work time, outside of schedule requirements of the posted position". Mandatory overtime will not be used unless there is a government declared state of emergency. Even in the case of such an emergency, the Kaiser facilities will take all reasonable steps to use volunteers and to get coverage from other sources before they mandate overtime. 

WHAT: Emergency Sick Leave
WHERE: Missoula, Montana
WHO: AFSCME Local 2235 & Montana University System 
An employee of the Montana University System is eligible to take Emergency Sick Leave in the event of illness or death of her/his immediate family member. The definition of immediate family includes spouse, parents, grandparents, brothers, sisters, children, household dependents, grandchildren or any other individual who may not be a blood relative but has been a permanent member of the employee's household.

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


WASHINGTON STATE WINS PAID FAMILY LEAVE! After Governor Chris Gregoire signed Paid Family Leave into law on May 8th, Washington became the second state in the nation to provide this benefit to new parents.    The new program will provide up to 5 weeks of time off with a benefit of $250.00 a week for parents taking time to bond with a newborn or newly adopted child. The original bill included care for a seriously ill family member but the legislature amended it to cover only new parents.  The benefit covers all employees who have worked at least 680 hours in the previous year, provides job protection for workers in companies with more than 25 employees and begins October 1, 2009.


THE NUMBER OF WORKERS FILING PREGNANCY-DISCRIMINATION CLAIMS WITH THE EEOC (EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION) HAS RISEN ALARMINGLY - 23% - SINCE 1997.   More mothers are claiming that their ability to work and advance at work is hindered by employers' assumptions about pregnancy and motherhood.  According to Elizabeth Grossman, a regional EEOC attorney, women are discriminated against at three points - when they disclose the pregnancy, as they near childbirth and after the child is born.  They are hitting what some people call "the maternal wall" - being denied jobs and promotions by managers who assume that they lack job commitment after becoming mothers. Source:  Wall Street Journal Online, May 2007

GREAT resources

TAKING ON THE BIG BOYS: In her new book, Taking on the Big Boys: Or Why Feminism is Good for Families, Businesses, and the Nation, former 9to5 Director Ellen Bravo tells stories from her decades of fighting on the frontline for income equality, family leave and an end to sexual harassment and insecure temp work.  She is funny and instructive in equal parts and finally inspires the reader to "think big, dream big and act."  Linda Chavez-Thompson, Executive Vice President of the AFL-CIO says, "I love this book!  It's a myth-buster and an eye-opener with an easy- to-read, compelling new take.  Whether you're a policy specialist or a single mom, it's a must read.  'Dream the world you want,' it urges - and provides a valuable blueprint to do just that. What an important contribution to building the world we all need and deserve."   For more information, go to

ON FATHERS' DAY, 2007 kicked off a new website for dads: is a place where fathers, grandfathers, brothers, uncles, and others can amplify their voices, and take action to help create a truly family-friendly America. Join the dads and grandfathers already blogging about their experience and learn about some great opportunities to get active around the family issues we all care about. To learn more, go to

VITAL Statistic

Vital Statistic
(Click to open PDF)


In Ellen Bravo's new book on feminism in the workplace, Taking on the Big Boys, she inspires us to "Dare to D.R.E.A.M.":
ACT - even with little time and few resources.
MULTIPLY - Take action with others.
Everything we talk about in this newsletter- union victories, workers taking a stand on immigration, family members who demand the right to provide caregiving for elderly relatives, and states passing family leave legislation - has these ingredients.  People can get involved on many different levels.  Recently, in California we campaigned in support of bills to expand family leave and prohibit discrimination against family caregivers.  Here are ways that folks participated:  Advocates and union activists signed and got others to sign thousands of post cards to the Governor - one union member got 500 co-workers to sign postcards!  A firefighter and his two sons spoke at a press conference about not getting promoted because he was a single parent; parents came to the Capitol to talk to their legislators; workers sent emails to friends and family asking them to contact the Governor about these important bills.  Every little bit counts - all the small pieces add up. So DREAM and dream big.


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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