The Labor Project for Working Families Transition

By Carol Joyner, National Policy Director, Labor Project for Working Families

Our fates were entwined from the start!  I first met Netsy Firestein, in 1993, a year after founding the 1199SEIU/Employer Child Care Fund.  She contacted me to express her joy upon learning about the first Childcare Fund negotiated in the country.  I was thrilled!  Someone heard about us, from clear across the country and she founded an organization that bridged labor and public policy to capture our collective imaginations around what was truly possible for families in America.

We raised our organizations, together.

In those days, the Labor Project was the only non-profit on the block focusing on work and family issues through a labor lens.  Their newsletter included success stories on contract wins:  paid family leave, paid sick days, shift swapping, telecommuting, domestic partnership language and so much more.  It was and remains the vanguard – for work and family labor policy ideas.

In the years that followed, a true friendship was forged out of deep respect for our common goals.   The Labor Project’s monumental win of California’s Paid Family Leave law raised the bar high.  Together, with the CA State Federation, they built a coalition that was broad, diverse, democratic in structure and highly successful.  It became the California Work and Family Coalition that continues to fight for legislation to expand paid family leave, guarantee healthcare for pregnant women and lay the groundwork for a state paid sick days bill.

The Coalition’s impressive success set the stage for the innovative Family Values@Work which is a network of 21 state coalitions that have won work and family victories, like: paid family leave in NJ, paid sick days in Connecticut, DC, Seattle, and Portland.  There are many other campaigns on the horizon.  Alignment with the labor movement remains strong and critical to its continued success.

As a former National Advisory Board member of the Labor Project, Board member of Family Values @ Work and national policy director it’s with true excitement and hope for the future that I bear witness to the changes about to happen.  Netsy will move on to a different role in our movement, the Labor Project will function in partnership with Family Values@Work and I will be its National Director.

These are huge shoes to fill.  But have no doubt, the Labor Project will remain a resource for unions and community groups that aim to win work and family policies: paid sick leave, paid family leave, expanded FMLA, and the range of economic policy issues that strengthen our families and our economy.  We will win them at the bargaining table, in local ordinances, at the state level and in the federal arena.

This summer, on July 26th, the Labor Project celebrates 20 years and the transition with a symposium and fiesta called “It’s About Time”.  More information to buy tickets, an ad or just spread the word is at

What was true 20 years ago remains true today.  The Labor Project exists for all workers whose fates are tied together, one family at a time.

In solidarity and with hope for the future,

Carol Joyner

National Policy Director

Labor Project for Working Families


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How To Stay Out of Debt During Family Leave

By Alanna Ritchie, content writer,

Life can catch you off guard, and while California’s Paid Family Leave Act provides partial wage repayment, it may not cover all the expenses you accrue during the time you are away from work. You could end up surrounded by overwhelming debt.

The cost of providing for yourself, a pregnant family member, a sudden illness or becoming a caregiver is high. It requires more than the legal provisions of job tenure and future financial security. You can protect yourself and your loved ones by avoiding these debt pitfalls.

Forgetting to Create an Emergency Fund

Don’t wait until emergencies strike to see if you have enough money to squeeze by. A good provider is always ready for unexpected situations, such a becoming sick or pregnant.

Financial experts recommend setting up an emergency fund with a starting balance of $1,000. Once you meet that goal, work toward having three to six months of living expenses set aside.

These savings will help cover the gap of lost income for the time you miss work. The more you save, the better position you’ll be in to cover medical expenses that will likely exceed your normal monthly budget.

Relying on Credit

Without an emergency fund, people who are financially stressed often make the mistake of relying on credit cards. After a few months, they find themselves quickly immersed in credit card debt.

The accumulation of credit card debt begins with groceries, gas and small expenditures. It can quickly escalate when you start using credit cards to make payments for cell phone bills, insurance and rent.

Depending on credit cards to supplement your income might seem like a short-term solution to making payments, especially if you expect your family leave to be.

Unfortunately, by the time you return to work, you may find that your income no longer covers monthly payments. You’ll also start paying interest on the balance, making financial recovery a difficult and long-term process.

Missing Payments

Remember that skipping payments for a long period of time, without a plan to crawl out of debt, is a costly mistake you want to avoid.

Whether it’s credit card debt or a loan you are trying to pay off, there are some situations where you simply cannot make ends meet.

These types of debt circumstances can debilitate you, but there are options. Do research about qualifying for debt settlement or loan consolidation programs — which can offer you more time to pay off debt, and in some cases, reduce the overall amount you owe.

Make a decision on the program that works for you.

Staying out of debt can be incredibly difficult, especially when the well-being of your family is on the line.

You can regain control of your finances by putting together an emergency fund, avoiding a dependency on credit cards, missing payments and other dangerous habits. While we cannot plan when emergency will strike or its effect on our families, we can take measures to always be prepared.


Alanna Ritchie writes about personal finance and little smart ways to spend (and save) money. Alanna has an English degree from Rollins College.

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California’s Paid Family Leave — What Constitutes “Family” Under the Law?

Contributed by Julia Parish, an attorney at the Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center.

Sally, a 74-year old woman and longtime employee of a large national retail store, recently contacted The Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center (Legal Aid) for help.   Sally’s twin sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer.  Her sister is widowed, their parents are deceased, and her only child lives out of state and is unable to help with her care.  The twin sisters have lived together for 15 years and Sally wants her twin to have the dignity of dying at home.  But Sally can’t receive Paid Family Leave because siblings are not currently included in the law’s definition of family.  She can’t afford to take unpaid time off, so she has been working nights in order to care for her sister during the day.

In 2004, California became the first state in the nation to implement a comprehensive Paid Family Leave (PFL) insurance program.  PFL is funded entirely by workers through paycheck deductions and provides up to six weeks of partial wage replacement to workers who must take time off to care for a seriously ill parent, child, spouse or registered domestic partner, or bond with their new child – making a leave of absence a practical possibility for working families, especially for low wage workers who depend on every paycheck to make ends meet.

However, families are diverse – and so are caregiving responsibilities.  At Legal Aid, we hear from many workers who are the only people available to care for their seriously ill siblings, in-laws, grandparents and grandchildren, yet they cannot receive PFL because these close family members are excluded from the program.  SB 770, introduced by Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), would allow workers to receive Paid Family Leave benefits while caring for seriously ill grandparents, grandchildren, siblings, and parents-in-law.

The narrow definition of family in PFL fails to account for the diversity of California households and the importance of caregiving by other close family members.  California has the second highest percentage of multi-generational households in the country.  Nearly half of Californians are single, and their closest relative may be a sibling.  In a recent study of caregivers of Alzheimer’s patients, over 40 percent of caregivers were not covered under the narrow definition of family in California’s Paid Family Leave law.

FL also benefits California businesses.  According to a 2011 study, Leaves That Pay: Employer and Worker Experiences with Paid Family Leave in California, the vast majority of employers reported that PFL had either a positive or no noticeable effect on business profitability, productivity and employee morale.  Small businesses were less likely to report any negative effects than large employers.

No one should have to choose between receiving a paycheck and caring for a loved one in a medical crisis.  By expanding the PFL program to include caregiving for seriously ill siblings, grandparents, grandchildren and parents-in-law, SB 770 will ensure that California workers can care for close family members without jeopardizing their economic well-being and will better reflect the reality and diversity of California families.

Workers with questions about their right to leave from work can call Legal Aid Society – Employment Law Center’s Work & Family toll-free helpline at (800) 880-8047 or (415) 593-0033.

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