Labor Family News - Summer 2008

The Price of Caregiving
Kids in School?
Unions Win It!
Family Caregiver Navigator

The Price of Caregiving
Caring for elders takes a financial toll on working Americans


After Katrina
Family caregivers spend over 10 percent of their income on caring for an adult or elderly relative.†© Family Caregiver Alliance, used with permission. Photo by Nita Winter.

The American economy is on a downward slope. Unemployment is at an all-time high. Gas and food prices are shooting up. Housing is hitting rock-bottom. It's time to tighten the belts and purse strings. Millions of working Americans are struggling to survive the economic downturn. Among these are nearly 45 million family caregivers (one out of every five households) that provide unpaid care to an adult/elderly relative or friend. A 2007 report estimates that these family caregivers on average spend over 10 percent of their household income to meet the out-of-pocket costs of caring for an adult/elderly relative, spouse, disabled sibling or friend. The burden on low-income family caregivers is higher with as much as over 20 percent of their annual income going towards caregiving costs.

Cost of Caring
Released in November 2007, a report entitled Family Caregivers - What They Spend, What They Sacrifice lists the findings of a survey by Evercare and the National Alliance for Caregiving on the extent to which family caregivers are paying for goods and services on behalf of the person they are helping. This first in-depth national study of its kind shows that family caregivers are paying over twice the amount of out-of-pocket caregiving costs than they were in 2004. Full-time workers spend more out-of-pocket than those working part-time. Family caregivers routinely pay for household goods, food and meals, travel and transportation, medical care co-pays and pharmaceuticals for the person they are providing care to.

Managing the Burden
The financial burden of caregiving has an immense impact on the lives of the caregivers and their families.† Almost half of low-income caregivers say that their finances got worse since they began giving care. Family caregivers manage the burden by taking loans, dipping into their savings, reducing or stopping saving for their own future, cutting back on leisure activities and ignoring their own health care.† Denise Osgood, International Representative of United Auto Workers (UAW) who works with the union's Work and Family Resource Unit, shares her experience as a long-term caregiver of her mother who was ill with Alzheimer's and lung cancer: "Financially we were able to assist for a while. My mother's medicines cost about $600 out of our pocket. I had the support but it was still not enough. If I was having such a hard time caring for my mom, can you imagine others - a single parent? a one-income family? a laid-off worker? What if your workplace was not supportive?"

Unions Support Caregivers
As America's aging population grows, so does their dependency on family caregivers. According to a USA Today/ABC News/Gallup Poll, 41 percent of baby boomers who have a living parent are providing them with personal help, financial assistance or both. At least one in three family caregivers provides care for five years or longer. In times when working families are already feeling stretched to the limit, it is important that family caregivers receive the support they need from their workplaces. Denise believes that unions are best equipped to address the concerns of family caregivers. "Unions can negotiate programs and benefits such as family care funds, resource and referral services, paid time off and family leave to help members with family caregiving responsibilities," she says.

Kids in School?
Working parents face barriers to staying involved


After Katrina
Vickie Underwood with her school age children. ©MultiState Working Families Consortium, used with permission. Photo by Leita Cowart.

During my elementary school years in the mid 1980's, I wondered why my mother didn't attend the Christmas school play at 11 am or the parent teacher meeting at 4 pm. Why did I have to wait for 2 hours in the nurse's office before someone, usually my aunt, picked me up and why was no one at home after school?† My mother could not be involved in my school events or home after school because she could not plan for it.† Her employer changed her schedule periodically without notice and often "encouraged" her to work overtime 30 minutes before the day was over.† She was afraid of losing her job and needed the money, so she complied.† It wasn't until 1992, when she got her first union job and became a member of HERE Local 11 in Los Angeles that she had more control over her work and could attend parent teacher meetings. †Knowing that she was involved assured me that she cared about my education - it made all the difference in my school success.

Barriers to being involved
Unfortunately, the challenges my mother faced 20 years ago continue to impact U.S. workers with school age children, especially those without a union.† 1 out of 2 low-income working parents in the U.S. faces barriers to becoming involved in their children's education. And 39 percent face barriers to participating in school meetings, school trips, or school events (The Work, Family and Equity Index - 2007 by Heymann, Earle and Hayes).† Sarah Lawton, an UPTE (Union of Professional and Technical Employees) member at UC Berkeley, speaks about the challenges that the majority of working parents endure: "All the parents I know want to be involved in their children's education. We want to attend school events and get to know our children's teachers. It is difficult to be involved when you are a working parent, unless you have a flexible employer who lets you move work hours around to accommodate the events that come up at school."

Due to economic necessity most working families do not have a stay-at-home parent who can be involved with their children during school hours or be home after school and during school breaks.† They simply cannot afford it.† In order to survive in today's economy, in most families, both parents must work and staying home is not even an option for most single parents.† "As a single dad, I have to provide for my 11 year old twins.† In construction, I can say no to work if I need to attend my kids' school activities but it means not getting paid, because we don't get personal or sick days. And contractors don't look well on guys that say no to work, because they want to get the job done. So it's a trade off," says David Mirtz, member of Ironworkers Local 580 in New York.† Too often parents risk being disciplined or losing their job so they don't even try to ask for time off.

Regular school hours, school breaks and activities often conflict with work schedules and increasing demands to meet the bottom line.† The rigidity of work hours, forced overtime, longer days and unsympathetic employers pose a huge challenge for U.S. parents who want to be involved in their children's education, especially for those without the protections of a union contract. The 2007 Work, Family and Equity Index shows that at least 134 countries have laws that fix the maximum length of the work week. The U.S. does not have a ceiling on the length of the work week or a limit on mandatory overtime hours.† U.S. employers lag behind other industrialized nations in helping workers juggle their work and family responsibilities.† Today employees are working longer hours, enduring longer commutes, and bringing more work home than they did 25 years ago (Family Values at Work 2007).† Where's the time to be involved in their children's school work?

According to the National Education Association (NEA), when parents are involved in their children's education at home, they do better in school. However, lack of parental involvement is the biggest problem facing public schools in the U.S. (Michigan Department of Education).† Despite national attempts to "leave no child behind" in their education, children are hurting and the unchecked demands of the workplace are contributing to this.

After Katrina
David Mirtz, member of Ironworkers Local 580, with his 11 year old twins, Nicky and Sofia. Photo courtesy of David Mirtz.†

Unions Step Up!
Even union members can be subject to random schedule changes, forced overtime and inflexible workplaces, but they have an advantage other workers don't: -- the power to bargain. Unions are increasingly recognizing the challenges members face and they are taking affirmative steps to help alleviate some of the pressures on parents with school age children.

Through contract negotiations with Delphi, Ford and Chrysler, the United Auto Workers (UAW) negotiated landmark child care agreements, which have been an example for other unions.† The union has negotiated for flex-time, comp time, expanded family leave, paid time off for school activities and full benefits for part-time work.† These victories allow UAW members to be both productive employees and involved parents, helping their children get a step closer to higher education and a better job.† They have also developed innovative programs to help children continue learning while parents are at work: Homework hotlines and summer camps are two examples.† Additionally, the UAW advocates for legislation that improves access and funding for after school programs, child care and family leave.†

The United Steelworkers (USW) also put family friendly policies high on their negotiating agenda. They successfully negotiated contracts eliminating mandatory overtime and allowing employees working overtime to take time off with pay in lieu of overtime premium if they choose. These provisions allow parents of school age children to be involved in planning and attending school events. "To successfully fight and negotiate work family issues, they have to be a priority for our members, which they are. Policies that allow workers to balance work and family are not easy to win, but they are needed, thus we'll keep fighting until we get them" says Ann Flener, National Director of Women of Steel, USW.
Several other unions, including AFSCME, SEIU, AFT and CWA have union contracts with language on alternative work schedules, mandatory overtime, flex time, and job sharing that could help members stay involved their child's school activities.† To find out more about what unions have done, visit their individual websites or

A need for public policies†
Contract negotiations are an effective way of guaranteeing strong work family policies that allow parents to be more involved in their child's education, but in order to have an even more far-reaching effect, public policy may be the way to go.† Several states, including California, Washington, D.C., Massachusetts and others, have job protected time off for parents to participate in school activities.† Although this leave for school activities is unpaid in most states, it gives parents the chance to be involved in their children's education without being reprimanded or fired from their job.† To see a full list of states visit:

There is more than one solution to meet the needs of working parents with school age children.† Unions and work family advocacy groups must employ innovative strategies and techniques, including contract negotiations, public policy, member education and mobilization to help them earn good wages with benefits and at the same time help their children be successful in their education.

How Unions Can Help Working Parents Stay Involved:

Ask: survey your members about work family balance needs.
Learn: check out the resources on gaining control over work time by visiting
Organize: organize around work family issues to educate, agitate and move more members to action.
Bargain: put work family issues at the top of the bargaining agenda.
Advocate: get your union to support work family legislation that helps parents take time off for school activities or provides more funding for quality after school and summer programs.


WHAT: Long-Term Elder Care Leave
WHERE: Canada
WHO: Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) & Government of Canada†
Canadian Government employee PSAC members can get leave without pay for the long-term personal care of their parents, including step-parents or foster parents. The leave has to be for a minimum period of three weeks but not to exceed five years during an employee's total period of employment in the public service.††††††††††

WHAT: School Participation Leave
WHERE: San Francisco, CA
WHO: Laborers' International Union of North America (LIUNA) Local 261 & City and County of San Francisco†
San Francisco City and County employees represented by LIUNA Local 261 can take up to four hours a year of paid time off to attend parent-teacher conferences for school-aged children (K-12). In addition, parents or employees with child-rearing responsibilities can use vacation, floating holiday hours, or compensatory time to take time off to participate in school activities.† (The state allows up to 40 hours of unpaid time per year).

WHAT: Joint Work-Family Committee
WHERE: Detroit, MI
WHO: United Auto Workers (UAW) & Ford Motor Company††

During the 2007 negotiations, UAW and Ford Motor Company agreed to establish a Joint Work-Family Committee (JWFC), consisting of an equal number of members representing the union and the company. In order to assist employees with their family needs, the JWFC will use internal resources to collect demographic data, work and family needs assessments and a comprehensive review of existing UAW-Ford national and local agreements with work family components.†††

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


FACT:† The hourly rate for child care workers has gone up just 39 cents over the past 35 years, says a report by the American Federation of Teachers; they earned an average of $18,820.00 in 2006.† For more information or a copy of the report, go to

FACT:† Maternity and Paternity Leave Cut Short Employers are cutting back on paid maternity and paternity leave and offering shorter leaves for both mothers and fathers compared to a decade ago.† This is occurring despite recent studies that show the positive impact of attentive parental nurturing and increased breastfeeding on children's long-term development.† Today, only 16 percent of U.S. employers offer full pay for childbirth leave, down from 27 percent in 1998.† For more information go to


New Jersey Legislature Wins Paid Family Leave!† In April, New Jersey became the third state in the country to provide paid family leave benefits to its workers.† New Jersey workers can soon apply for up to six weeks of paid time off to bond with a newborn, newly adopted child or care for a sick child, parent, spouse or domestic partner.† Compensation equals to two-thirds of regular pay up to a maximum of $524.00 a week.† The benefit is administered through New Jersey's existing Temporary Disability Insurance fund (TDI) and is funded by increased worker contributions, estimated at $33.00 a year.

Same Sex Couples Marry in CA. In May, the California Supreme Court struck down the state's ban on same-sex marriage declaring that a 'fundamental right to marry' extends equally to same sex couples.† California is the second U.S. State, after Massachusetts, to make marriage licenses available to same sex couples.† California allows out-of-state couples to wed.† UCLA's Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation Law and Public Policy projected in June 2008 that about half of California's more than 100,000 same-sex couples will wed during the next three years and 68,000 out-of-state couples will travel to California to exchange vows.

VITAL Statistic

Vital Statistic
(Click image to open PDF PDF)


In January of this year, my mother-in-law, Betty Bilick, passed away.† She was 96 years old and lived in an assisted living facility with my father-in-law, her husband of 67 years.† They lived independently until two years ago.† Betty was a political activist who remained opinionated, feisty, vibrant, and fairly healthy until shortly before she died. She and my father-in-law had a pension and retiree health benefits from his work as a postal worker and teacher. In addition, my husband and I live close by and have the flexibility to take paid time off from work when we have to.† Over the last year, we did that fairly frequently - trips to the emergency room, calls in the middle of the night that one of them had fallen or was having trouble breathing. When Betty was dying, a family member was there each day to oversee her care.

I give you these details because she had a lot of support that many older Americans don't have:† a pension, health insurance and family near by who had paid sick days, paid family leave and jobs that allowed for flexible hours.† If you've been reading our newsletter for a while, you know that many Americans don't have access to these benefits to care for a sick or dying family member. It meant a lot to our family to be there for Betty when she had to go to the hospital, when she had trouble talking and breathing and finally when she died.† It hit home to me once again how important it is to keep pushing to win these benefits for all workers. So we'll keep on fighting in Betty's name.† She would accept no less.

Help Finding Care
Family Caregiver Alliance Launches "Family Care Navigator"

The National Center on Caregiving at Family Caregiver Alliance has launched the Family Care Navigator, a first-of-its-kind comprehensive online guide to help families across the U.S. to locate government, nonprofit and private caregiver support programs.

For more information go to:



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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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