Labor Family News - Winter 2007

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Unions Win It!

Activists in San Francisco Unite to Win Paid Sick Days


On November 7, 2006 San Francisco became the first city in the country to require paid sick days for all workers in the city.  Proposition F - passed with a 61% vote in San Francisco - mandates that almost all workers accrue one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked - full-time, part-time or temporary. All businesses with 10 or less workers must provide up to 5 paid sick days a year, while larger companies must guarantee up to 9 days per year to employees. All workers can take paid sick leave for themselves and to care for a child, parent, spouse, domestic partner or other designated person.

Ailing Communities
Most Americans believe that they have the right to paid sick leave. But 1 in 2 workers in the country have ZERO paid sick days to take care of their health. And the majority with paid sick time cannot use it to care for a sick child, elderly parent, spouse/partner or relative. In the event of ill-health these workers end up losing pay, losing jobs, and going on public assistance.

People who work with the public - in child care centers, nursing homes, retail stores, and the hotel and food industry - are disproportionately denied paid sick days. When these workers take their illness to work, everyone faces a higher risk of getting sick.

Studies show that sick children recover faster when parents care for them. But many working parents have to send a sick child to school or daycare because they cannot miss work or forfeit their wages.

Hope for Healthy Families
Employers may try to sidestep this important benefit, but a movement to bring paid sick days to all workers is gathering momentum across the country.

"When my kids are sick, I need to have the peace of mind that I can take care of them without worrying about losing my job. Paid sick days give me the security to do that," says Hilda Turcios, a janitor and mother in San Francisco.
San Francisco's Proposition F owes its success to the organizing efforts of the Coalition for Paid Sick Days which includes:  Young Workers United, Parent Voices, the Chinese Progressive Association, and the Service Employees International Union. Collective movements to enact similar legislation on the city and state level are growing in Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont, Wisconsin, Washington D.C. and many other states.

At the federal level, the Healthy Families Act (introduced by Senator Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. and Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn. in 2004) will be a legislative priority for Congress in 2007. The Healthy Families Act would guarantee most working Americans a minimum number of paid sick days to care for their own or their families' medical needs. The bill would provide 7 paid sick days a year to full-time workers and pro-rated leave to part-time workers in firms of 15 or more.

Get Involved
Mandating paid sick days for all workers will ensure that working families do not have to choose between their health and a paycheck. Make your voice heard. To take action or get more information, visit:

National Partnership: Paid Sick Days petition:

9to5 National Association of Working Women

Progressive States Network:

Joseph, a full-time restaurant staff in New York, went to work with a high fever. His manager had denied his request for a sick day. Dizzy and weak, Joseph passed out while serving a customer. He was rushed to the emergency room. He recovered in a week, but lost his job.

Almost 1 out of 2 working Americans risk losing their wages and jobs if they fall sick and can't work.

May Lee took a sick day off from her departmental store job in Minnesota because her 7-year-old daughter Orchid had a severe asthma attack. The store supervisor was angry that May Lee had used her paid sick time to be with her daughter. She was fired.

86 million workers in the United States do not have paid sick days to care for a sick child.

The Cost of Attending College is Increasing Faster than most Families Incomes - How will You Pay for College?


Janet Fung is a Junior Equity Sales Trader in Hong Kong.  She recently graduated from Middlebury College in Massachusetts with a BA in Economics and Chinese.  Janet's mom is a housekeeper at a San Francisco hotel and a member of UNITE HERE, Local 2.  What does the union have to do with a college education?  It was through the union's Child and Elder Care Plan that Janet was able to take advantage of a free SAT preparation course, held at the union offices, for members' college-bound teens. 

The Union Steps Up
With a diverse membership body, including a majority of recent immigrants from China and Latin America, UNITE HERE Local 2 recognized that many members have little or no experience regarding the U.S. college application process.  To change this, the union worked with The Princeton Review to incorporate educational components for parents including an orientation class that reviews the steps to applying for college and a financial aid workshop.  "The financial aid workshop is always well attended." states Lisa Jaicks, Plan staff.  "Many members think they have to pay for everything and they are so happy when they find out that's simply not true."  The workshop is key to parents seeing college as a reality for their son or daughter.  For some, it means looking at universities across the country instead of opting for a local 2-year college.

In the six years that the SAT course has been offered, Local 2 has seen teens go off to top universities including UC Berkeley, Stanford, UC Davis, Middlebury and Yale. Luis Ochoa was accepted at Berkeley, Columbia and Chicago but chose Stanford because it fit more with his character. "I really appreciate the help the union has given to my father," states Luis, whose father is a hotel chef. "He could not have afforded to pay for an SAT course himself." 

Janet Fung appreciates UNITE HERE for providing the SAT course:  "It was very helpful.  It made taking the SAT a lot less stressful," she said.  "If it weren't for the union benefit, I would not have been so prepared or done so well."

Cost of Attending College Rising
For many teens and their parents applying to colleges, the SAT Preparation Course would be prohibitively expensive at almost $1,000 for the course. Working families struggle with a sky-rocketing cost of living that includes a recent jump in college tuition.  Tuition costs at public universities have increased more than 42 percent since 2000. Interest rates on student and parent loans just went up, even as Congress cut $12 billion out of the student loan funds. While union members work hard to make a decent living to support their families, helping provide the opportunities that come with a college education has become more challenging than ever.

So What Can Unions Do?
More unions, like Local 2 in San Francisco, are finding ways to help members' children attend college - from providing free SAT courses to financial aid counseling and scholarships.

The TWU (Transport Workers Union) awards 15 scholarships a year to members' dependents.  Other unions including AFT, AFSCME and SEIU, participate in the Union Plus Scholarship Program to provide their members' children with scholarships to attend the university of their choice.  Union Plus has awarded over $2 million in scholarship money since it began in 1992. 

Some unions like 1199SEIU in New York help provide more support for kids who will be the first generation in their family to attend college.  1199 joined with New York University (NYU) to provide a year-long program with academic support and counseling that prepares 14-17 year olds for college.

"What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails, more books and less arsenals, more learning and less vice."
Samuel Gompers, 188
Co-founder and first president of the American Federation of Labor (AFL)

Aiding Future Unionists
AFSCME found a way to help students of color pay for college and get direct experience working in the labor movement at the same time.  The union offers the AFSCME/UNCF Union Scholars Program ( to college sophomore and junior students of color with a grade point average of 2.5 and better. These students have an opportunity to work on the front lines of a real union organizing campaign and talk to workers about having a voice on the job, fair wages and benefits for themselves and their families. While getting this experience, students receive a stipend during the internship and scholarship funding when they complete the program. As one organizer said, "the combination of exposure to union work with a stipend and scholarship is great way to motivate and support students and, for many of them, it's a great way to see what their parents had to go through when they formed their union."  Jeannete Barajas, a 2006 AFSCME/UNCF union scholar, said that the best part about the program w as "The interaction with a variety of people and knowing that you are making a difference. Also, while meeting all these people, you feel inspired and really believe that we can really change the world." 


Union Plus Scholarship Program: Over $2 million has been awarded. For more information on union scholarships go to   

Check with your union or state labor federation.
Many unions and federations offer scholarships and programs to help college-bound students.  For more information go to your union or state federation website and see what they offer.

What's in your contract?
Unions have negotiated for tuition assistance for members or their children.  Some unions offer SAT classes or other programs for college bound children through a negotiated fund.  Check with your union or contact the Labor Project for contract examples.

Be Creative!
Some unions offer scholarships to teens whose parents are not members - especially students going into human services. Look beyond your own union to see what you can find.


WHAT:  Paid Family Leave for Relatives and Domestic Partners
WHERE:  Silver Spring, Maryland
WHO:  Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild-CWA, and the National Labor College

The archivists, librarians and instructors working for the National Labor College are allowed six days with pay and up to sixteen weeks of leave without pay, but without loss of seniority or benefits to care for a sick child, relative or domestic partner.  The contract defines domestic partner as "a person with whom the employee shares or has shared within the last year a mutual residence and with whom the employee maintains a committed relationship."

WHAT:  Pregnancy Accommodation
WHERE:  New Jersey
WHO:  IFPTE Local 195 and the State of New Jersey

Pregnant members of IFPTE Local 195 had trouble fitting into their uniforms and bargained with the state for a special accommodation.  They won the right to be supplied with maternity uniforms.  If maternity uniforms were not available, the employees will be permitted to wear appropriate personal clothing for the duration of the pregnancy.

WHAT:  Flexible Work Locations
WHO:  AFSCME Local 12 & the Department of Labor

AFSCME members who work for the Department of Labor in Iowa won the right to flex their work location according to their needs.  The union calls this "Flexiplace."  This voluntary program permits the employees to work at home or another approved site away from the office for all or part of the workweek.

WHAT: Tuition Reimbursement
WHERE:  California
WHO:  SEIU UHW/Local 121 RN SEIU Nurse Alliance and Catholic Healthcare West Hospitals

Union healthcare workers at Catholic Healthcare West Hospitals can get reimbursed for tuition expenses for courses that lead to a high school diploma, college degree, or certification programs that are job related or lead to future promotional opportunities with the employer.  The employer will reimburse the employee for fees paid for tuition up to $3,000 per fiscal year. 

WHAT:  Catastrophic Illness Donation
WHERE:  Nebraska
WHO:  AFSCME Local 61 & State of Nebraska

Employees of the State of Nebraska won the right to contribute accrued vacation leave to benefit another State employee suffering from a catastrophic illness. AFSCME members can donate vacation leave in increments of 1 day.  This provision will help employees who have an accident or serious illness and have exhausted their own sick leave.

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


When the California Faculty Association was in bargaining for more paid parental leave, the union asked a young faculty member, the mother of a one-year-old child, to speak to the California State University Board of Trustees about why faculty needed more paid parental leave.  The morning of the meeting this member's child care fell through. She brought her child to the meeting. She started her testimony with the child on her hip, but he soon got restless and started clambering around the table in front of her. Other union members headed him off and brought him back to her. The trustees looked really nervous. He escaped from her arms and started climbing around again. Finally, she finished her (3 minute) testimony, gathered up her child and left the podium.

When the CFA team walked into bargaining later that month, the first thing the employer's team said was "you can have the additional parental leave".  A child care failure had worked to the advantage of all union member parents!

In spite of common knowledge that "breast milk is best" for all babies, nursing mothers are facing a two-class system when it comes to continuing to breastfeed after returning to work.  According to the New York Times (9-1-06), for well-paid professionals with autonomy on the job, lactation means sitting in a plush recliner behind closed doors, pumping milk with a high-quality company-supplied pump.  But for lower-income workers, including many who work in restaurants, factories, call centers and the military, pumping at work is next to impossible.  Many of these women decline to breastfeed at all or stop after a short time when faced with nowhere but a bathroom stall to pump and nowhere to refrigerate the milk.  Twelve states have passed laws protecting pumping mothers but most only state that an employer must make a "reasonable" effort to provide break time and privacy.


According to a new study by the Center for WorkLife Law, depictions of work/family conflict in the news incorrectly focus on professional women's choice to "opt out" - to cut back on work or leave the workforce - for family reasons.  The study shows that women are more often pushed out of their jobs by inflexible workplaces, failures in public policy and outright workplace bias.  The report, "Opt Out" or "Pushed Out?":  How the Press Covers Work/Family Conflict - the Untold Story of Why Women Leave the Workforce, reviews and critiques hundreds of current news articles for their faulty assumptions about work/family conflict and the women's ability to choose between working and staying home.  The report offers a new, refreshing analysis of how and why women are leaving the workforce.  For the full report, go to


FACT:  Child care for two children costs more then the income of a full-time minimum wage worker.  Only 1 in 7 eligible children receives child care assistance, and about half the states have cut low-income child care since 2000.

From 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women, Working Women Vote for Change

VITAL Statistic

Vital Statistic


Fitting a square peg into a round hole - that's what having a job and having a life sometimes feels like. 

When my kids were young, it didn't make sense that my job was 9am to 5pm, but school was from 9am to 3pm.  When I worked with a bus drivers' union, the drivers had to be at work by 6 am, but child care centers usually didn't open until 8am.  Now my in-laws need help going to doctors' appointments but doctors' hours are only during the day when I'm working. I have a lot of flexibility in my job, but most workers don't.

Our work is still set up as if there are two parent families, with dad as breadwinner and mom as homemaker. You've heard the stats. The bottom line is our workplaces don't fit today's workforce.  Something's got to give.

One solution: work that allows flexibility while protecting workers, rather than exploiting them - the European unions call it: Flexicurity! Read about Wal-Mart, which practices FAKE FLEX and about unions that have negotiated for REAL FLEX in our new FLEX PACK - on our website:



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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