Making a Difference for Families









Unions support America’s families. Good union jobs give working families security and flexibility in a changing economy, and unions help enact workplace protections—like paid sick leave, family leave, and medical leave—that are crucial for all working families. Specifically, unions:

Support military families.

  • In 2007, the United Auto Workers (UAW) donated $15,000 to provide free phone cards to members of the U.S. Armed Forces stationed overseas. The UAW donated the money to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in support of Operation Uplink, which helps military families stay in touch during terms of military service.
  • Several unions participate in the Helmets to Hardhats program, which offers training and job placement in the construction industry to military veterans returning from active duty.

Help lift families out of poverty. Unions raise wages the most for low- and middle-wage workers.  They also benefit young workers: union workers between 18 amnd 29 earn 12.4 percent more and have better benefits than their nonunion counterparts.2

  • Unions play a central role in the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership, which since 1996 has trained and placed over 1,500 low-income residents of the Milwaukee area in family-supporting, high-tech jobs that include health care and other benefits.3
  • Similar community-based efforts exist in Pittsburgh, PA, and Western New York.

Provide workers with job security when they need to respond to family care emergencies. One study reviewed 99 union arbitrations involving the employees who were fired or disciplined for missing work due to family care needs. The study found that in all but one case, the union’s filing of a grievance led to overturned dismissals or reduced discipline.4

Give workers the right to alternative work arrangements—such as flexible hours, telecommuting, and compressed work weeks—which allow workers to balance family and childcare needs with work schedules. Union members also receive 14% more paid time off than non-union employees.5

Increase workers’ access to childcare by creating childcare centers in the workplace, lobbying for childcare subsidies, and providing workers with childcare benefits through collective bargaining agreements.

Help pass legislation important to working families, including:

  • The Washington, DC, Accrued Sick and Safe Days Act of 2007, requiring DC employers to provide workers with paid sick leave and paid time off for victims of domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault. Unions continue to promote paid sick leave provisions in a number of states, including West Virginia and Ohio.
  • Paid family leave programs implemented in California and New Jersey in 2004 and 2008, guaranteeing paid leave for workers taking care of ill family members or new children.
  • The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, allowing employees to take unpaid leave during serious medical conditions or to care for sick family members or new children.
  • The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, outlawing discrimination against workers on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions, and requiring employers to give pregnant women the same insurance, leave, or support given to employees with other medical conditions or with disabilities.

Read more:

  • Unions Making a Difference for Everyone
  • Unions Making a Difference for Business
  • Unions Making a Difference for the Environment
  • Unions Making a Difference for Health
  • Unions Making a Difference for Equality
  • Citations:

    1. Lawrence Mishel with Matthew Walters,“How Unions Help All Workers," EPI Briefing Paper #143 Aug. 2003; John Schmitt, "The Union Advantage for Low-Wage Workers," Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2008.
    2. John Schmitt, "Unions and Upward Mobility for Young Workers," Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2008.
    3. Eric Parker, “Workforce Development and Family-Supporting Jobs: The Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership,” Perspectives on Work, Summer 2004.
    4. Joan Williams, “One Sick Child Away From Being Fired: When "Opting Out" Is Not an Option,” Worklife Law, UC Hastings College of Law, 2006
    5.Mishel and Walters