Labor Family News - Winter 2006

Immigrant Parent's Heartache: Leaving Children in Search of Good Jobs
Message from the Executive Director
From Detroit to Delhi: The Increasingly Troubling Conditions Faced by Working Families
Include Work and Family Questions in Union Surveys


Members of the United Steelworkers working at Alto-Shaam Inc. in Wisconsin have a voluntary overtime provision in their contract. No mandatory overtime can be given until all attempts to fill the shift through volunteers have been exhausted; workers with the highest seniority being asked first. If there are no volunteers, Alto-Shaam may require mandatory overtime but this is limited to eighty hours each contract year, per member. There is also a two-day advance notice requirement. Being excused from mandatory overtime requires permission from the VP of Operations.
(USW Local 9040 & Alto Shaam, Inc.)

UFCW members with over 10 years of full-time service at A&P have access to seven weeks of paid sick leave and an additional nine weeks at half-pay. The provision, in the United Food and Commercial Workers contract with the Rhode Island employer, provides for paid sick and accident (non-industrial) benefits to full-time employees. The range of benefits is dependent upon length of employment with employees on the job between three to twelve months receive one week of full pay and two weeks at 50% pay. Full-time and part-time employees who are unable to work due to work-related injuries receive pay during their time away from work. (UFCW Local 328 & A & P Food Markets)

Laborers working for the City of San Francisco have the option of working in a flex-time program, with permission from the Employer. The employee must work a 5-day, 40-hour week (choosing his/her start and end times) and must sign a document stating that he/she is participating in a flex-plan program. The City and Union also have the option to create a cost equivalent alternate work schedule for some employees. The new schedule may include a full-time workweek of less than five days. Subject to approval, an employee may voluntarily elect to work a reduced work week (not less than 20 hours) for a specific period of time but not less than three months during the fiscal year.
(Laborers International Union Local 261 & City and County of San Francisco)

Teamsters Local 572 successfully negotiated contract language providing for unpaid child care leave. An employee can take time to care for his/her own or adopted child under the age of three. The leave cannot exceed thirty-nine calendar months in duration. Members also have access to three days of paid bereavement leave (five days if more than two-hundred miles of travel is required). The contract uses an expanded definition of family, which also includes cohabitant, step-parent, step-grandparent, and any relative living in the employee’s immediate household. If the employee is on vacation during the time of death, the employee may terminate his/her vacation in order to take bereavement leave.
(IBT Local 572 & Los Angeles Unified School District)

Immigrant Parents’ Heartache: Leaving Children in Search of Good Jobs
By Nikki Dones*

Katherine recently enjoyed her “Quinceanera”, a big South American celebration for young girls turning 15. Katherine’s mother, Ana, paid for all the decorations, the food and her daughter’s dress from money she’d saved from her salary. Ana was unable to attend the celebration. The party took place in El Salvador, where Katherine lives with other family members. Ana lives in Los Angeles where she works as a janitor.

In 1999, due to the war and bad economy in El Salvador, Ana came to America in search of work leaving her children Katherine age 8, Neftali age 7 and Ana age 6. Today, she is a member of SEIU Local 1877 and enjoys the job security and decent wages won by the union. She sends $500 home each month to help pay for her children’s food and education but it is hard being away from them. “I have a job and I earn money that I can send home to provide for my children,” says Ana “but I don’t get to see them grow up and I miss them.”

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, there are nearly 4 million immigrant families in the United States. It is not unusual for parents to arrive first, leaving children in the care of grandparents, aunts and uncles for years at a time before being in the financial position to send for them. Historically, fathers lead the migration but over the years this trend has changed with women being the first in the family to migrate. A study by the Harvard Immigrant Project found that 85% of the immigrant children they looked at had been separated from at least one parent during the migration process.

Aida Cardenas, Southern California Division Coordinator for SEIU Local 1877, says this is a common issue. The union has hundreds of members living and working in the LA area with children being raised by extended families in their native countries. Many are on temporary work visas that must be renewed each year; some are here through political asylum and cannot return home. “The union is very aware of how common this is and how much of a financial burden it can be,” states Cardenas, “Whenever possible, we raise this issue at the bargaining table when negotiating for higher wages. We reiterate how hard it is for low-income workers to pay high rent as well as send money home to their families.” She often sees members helping each other and developing small, informal networks where those able to travel home take packages and money back for others.

Not all are lucky enough to benefit from the sense of community and higher wages that union membership can bring. Yamilit left her 12 year old son and 10 year old daughter in Nicaragua in 1990, when she came to work in America as a housekeeper in a non-union hotel. She doesn’t know of other women like her and she hasn’t told her employer that she has children back home. She sends money when she can and wants to bring her children here but saving the money is hard. She has a five year old daughter, Anna, from her second marriage that her children are dying to meet. Yamilit gets depressed a lot. “I call my children on weekends but they are often angry at me for leaving them behind.” She states, “They want me to come home but I know I won’t find a job there and the money I can send is important for their welfare.”

Leaving children behind is emotionally hard on the parents and many feel guilty, depressed and alone. For Ana, the union has helped a lot. She can talk openly about her experience with union staff, she has friends like her and she can participate in the informal networks. She knows the union cares. Cardenas sums up the situation for members like Ana. “It is so hard for them, not seeing their kids. They all talk about going home but it’s either too dangerous or there’s simply no work. What choice do they have?”

The increased migration of parents across borders is in part a consequence of globalization. They move in search of better wages and to give their children more opportunities. Often a parent arrives alone, with hopes of reuniting the family when he/ she is established. Some arrive illegally then apply for permanent status, while others have thoughts of making money then returning to their children. Once here, they become part of the community where they live and work as janitors, maids and care providers. They have many of the same work family issues but the distance makes them enormous challenges to overcome. For immigrants like Ana and Yamilit, decent wages provide more for their children; paid vacation allows them to visit home without loss of pay; paid family leave gives them the opportunity to deal with family medical emergencies in their native countries; and access to healthcare means they don’t worry about getting sick themselves or running up huge medical bills. In large part, immigrant parents with children in their home countries remain a hidden work and family issue but it is one in need of broader union, workplace and immigration solutions.

*Special thanks to translators Mariela Martinez and Laura Mancillas.

Message from the Executive Director, Netsy Firestein

The photo to your right is obviously not me. They are twin daughters born October 13th to our Managing Editor, Jenya Cassidy. They weighed just over 3.5 lbs and 4.5 lbs at birth.

This Issue focuses on the work and family challenges of workers across the globe, and the major effects that globalization has on working families. Here at home, Jenya got 12 weeks of fully paid family leave – 6 weeks of California’s pregnancy disability law and 6 weeks of paid family leave law which paid 55% of her salary and thanks to our union contract, the remaining 45% paid by the Labor Project. After that Jenya may consider a flexible work schedule.

Many of her immigrant sisters are not so lucky. In the cover story, Nikki Dones interviewed mothers who immigrated to the U.S. to support their families but had to leave their children behind with family members. This is a wrenching decision for families and a hidden work and family issue. While union workers have some advantages through better pay and benefits, the problem and solutions are global and demand public policy attention.

Jody Heymann and her colleagues at the Project on Global Working Families interviewed parents in other countries who are forced to leave children home alone or with an older child during the working day. The effect on children’s health and well being is devastating. The Project calls for global minimum working standards including a living wage, parental leave, leave and flexibility to care for sick family members, and humane working hours. More and more, work and family problems are global and each country’s standards affect workers across boundaries. Our solutions need to be global as well.

From Detroit to Delhi: The Increasingly Troubling Conditions Faced by Working Families
by Jody Heymann, Magda Barrera, and Kate Penrose

Around the world, more than 930 million children under fifteen are being raised in households in which all of the adults work. As part of the Project on Global Working Families, we looked at the experience of over 55,000 workers and their families across five continents and conducted in-depth interviews of over 1,000 families in Mexico, Botswana, Vietnam, the United States, Honduras, and Russia. It became clear that countless working parents have to make untenable choices between caring for their children adequately and earning the income they need for their families to survive. Their stories are recounted in a new book, “Forgotten Families: Ending the Growing Crisis Confronting Children and Working Parents in the Global Economy” by Jody Heymann (Oxford University Press, 2006).

The confluence of changes in labor force participation, urbanization, and globalization have placed working families worldwide in the eye of the storm as their ability to bargain for decent working conditions has eroded at the exact same time that these conditions are becoming increasingly critical. What are the costs to children and their families? Young children are being left on their own, or in the care of older children in the family or in poor-quality care on a daily basis. The first situation too often leaves children to face immediate and life-threatening risks, and the latter two have long-term but equally devastating consequences – both for the care provider when that person is only a slightly older child and for the recipient. In Tegucigalpa, Honduras, we met Ramon Canez, a ten year-old who lives with his family in a lengthy metal barracks housing families who lost their homes during Hurricane Mitch. During the twelve hours that their parents are at work, Ramon cares for five siblings aged five years and younger. Although Ramon is attentive and caring to his siblings, he is, like any other ten-year-old, unable to provide the care they need. His two-year old sister, Laurita, has thin, bent legs welded with rickets from malnutrition and barely moves at all. His infant brother Beni suffers from a deep, penetrating cough with no adult care provider who can safely administer his medicine during the day. Ramon himself has been disadvantaged by his caregiving responsibilities, having already repeated the second grade because of time lost from school. Ramon’s parents care for their children as well as they can with the scarce resources available. Needing to work to provide for the family’s basic needs and without affordable childcare, they had no choice but to leave their preschool children in the care of their older sibling, a young child himself.

Our interviews found a sizable percentage of parents forced to leave children on their own: In Mexico, 27% of the working parents interviewed had to leave children alone or in the care of an unpaid child some or all of the time; in Botswana, with no publicly supported childcare, 48% of parents had to leave a child home alone or in the care of an unpaid child. Globally, 66% of parents we interviewed who had experienced difficulties at work because of caregiving responsibilities ended up leaving their children home alone or with another child. Yet, in two out of three families where parents had to leave children home alone or in the care of an unpaid child, the children suffered accidents or other emergencies while their parents were at work.

Dr Marcelo Javaloyas, the director of a health clinic in Tegucigalpa, explained how difficult it was to effectively immunize children in many of the households with working-poor parents who lacked childcare. Since the parents worked all day and received no leave, they could never take their children to the clinic for immunizations. The doctors and nurses went to many homes where children were home alone, couldn’t find their immunization cards, and therefore could not be vaccinated.

At the same time, parents who attempt to care for sick children face serious economic consequences. The number of parents losing pay or job promotions or having difficulty keeping their jobs because of the need to care for sick children is large: 62% of the parents we interviewed in Vietnam faced these economic penalties, 48% in Mexico, and 28% in Botswana. Tragically, those who have the greatest need are affected most severely: 67% of parents with income under $10 a day faced a choice of either losing pay because of their need to care for sick children or having to leave sick children home alone. The lack of support for working families also exacerbates gender inequalities. 49% of women in our study had lost pay or job promotions or had difficulty retaining jobs because of the need to care for sick children compared to 28% of men.

There is a clear need for action to address global working conditions. Calls for reform have been thwarted by the proposition that the poor conditions faced by workers in developing countries are an improvement over past conditions and that asking for more threatens their jobs. But being better off—if “better off” still means living in misery—is not an adequate reason to stop fighting for improved conditions. We would never argue that in the slums of Dickensian England and the gritty mill towns of New England during the United States’ industrial revolution, everything was fine because any jobs were better than no jobs. Workers organized, labor movements grew, and policy makers fought to improve working conditions for all affected.

Increased social and economic relations across countries can just as readily lead to widely shared economic gains as they can to a downward spiral toward worse working conditions. For this to happen, labor has to be valued as highly as the capital needed to conduct international commerce. We need to put in place universal standards for minimum decent working conditions. These need to include the kind of conditions essential to humane survival both for adults and the children they care for, including a living wage, parental leave, leave and flexibility to care for sick family members, and humane working hours.

Jody Heymann, Director, Project on Global Working Families and McGill Institute for Health and Social Policy, is a professor at McGill University. Magda Barrera is a Research Assistant at the Institute and Kate Penrose provides research support . Dr Heymann's new book can be ordered at online bookstores.

Include Work and Family Questions in Union Surveys

The union can identify member issues in two ways—by including one or two specific questions on a bargaining survey and/or conducting a separate needs assessment survey. The following questions are designed to be included on bargaining surveys and are intended as a first step to understanding the work and family responsibilities of members. Do not use all six questions on the bargaining survey but pick one or two. The responses to these questions will give the union insight into how members are struggling with these issues and how to remedy them through collective bargaining.

1. It is difficult to balance my work life with my family life:

2. In the last two months I have missed work, arrived late or left early because of family responsibilities:
1-3 times
4-6 times
7-10 times
11+ times

3. Do you have child and/or elder care responsibilities?
Child care
Elder care

4. If you have child or eldercare responsibilities, what do you find most challenging? On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = “not a challenge” to 5 = “a serious challenge”), please rate in order of importance:
Cost of quality care
Availability of care during the hours I need it
Missing work because of problems with child care or elder care
Finding appropriate care for my child who has a disability or special need
Transportation problems
Other (please state)_____________

5. Below is a list of the most common problems workers face in balancing work and family. On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = “not a problem” to 5 = “a serious problem”), indicate which problems concern you:
Lack of flexible work hours
Work shift
Mandatory overtime
Lack of paid leave for family emergencies
Missing work to care for a sick family member
Care needs of my special needs child
Cost of child care
Availability of quality child care
Cost of elder care
Availability of quality elder care
Other (please state)_______________

6. How often have you provided care for an elderly or disabled relative in the last two months? (“Care” includes taking the relative to doctor’s appointments, supervising financial matters, grocery shopping, cooking, helping with household chores, helping him/her dress, etc.)
1-5 times
6-10 times
11+ times
Every day

7. What child care issues do you find to be the most challenging? On a scale of 1 to 5 (1 = “not an issue” to 5 = “a serious issue”), please rate in order of importance:

Affordable, quality child care
Child care that is appropriate for my child who has a disability or special need
Child care close to home, or work
Care for a mildly sick child
Transportation to or from child care/after school
Extended (before-/after-school, evening or weekend) care
Care during summer, holidays and school closings
Backup plans for last-minute emergencies

Adapted from “A Job and A Life, Organizing and Bargaining for Work Family Issues, a Union Guide”, Labor Project for Working Families, 2005. For more information on surveys or contract language, order the Guide or call us at (510) 643-7088.

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

Reprints Permitted With Acknowledgement. Call us for an email version.
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