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Old 03-15-2006, 01:20 PM   #1
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"One Sick Child Away From Being Fired"

This is pursuant to a recent thread about the fate of mothers in the job market--only here the focus is blue-collar families, rather than professional women. What follows is a few excerpts from a study just released by the Center for WorkLife law, a U.Cal-based advocacy group. The whole report is available at http://www.uchastings.edu/site_files...esickchild.pdf

I thought about just deleting the personal stories to make this post shorter, and I did cut a few, but ultimately they are too integral to the points being made here to be wholly left out.
One Sick Child Away From Being Fired

Professional women are not the only Americans whose jobs are in jeopardy because of work/family conflict. This report discusses a study of 99 union arbitrations that provide a unique window into how work and family responsibilities clash in the lives of men and women in working-class jobs. The arbitrations communicate the stories of Americans caught between inflexible jobs, lack of resources, and their commitment to do right by their families. Here are our major findings:

1) Working class families face inflexible schedules that clash with family needs.
A bus driver was fired when she arrived 3 minutes late because her severely asthmatic son had had an asthma attack. A packer was fired when she left work in response to a call that her daughter was in the emergency room with a head injury. A press operator at the Chicago Tribune, who was the primary caregiver for her mother, came to work late because she said she was up until midnight monitoring her mother's blood pressure, which was dangerously out of control. She returned home to find that her 1-year-old was having trouble sleeping, and fell asleep while rocking the child in a rocking chair. The next morning she overslept, called in to report she would be late, but was fired when she arrived 20 minutes late.

20% of American families are caring for a child with special needs; 30% of these caregivers either reduce their hours or end up without work as a result. When family crises strike, these families do not have the resources to hire help or seek out professional care for needy or troubled family members. A single mother who worked for the Chicago Transit Authority was fired for tardiness stemming chiefly from her son's Crohn's disease. Each morning she had to unhook her son from his IV, bandage him, administer medication, get him off to school, take two buses to take her toddler to his babysitter, and then take a third bus to get to work. When she was late, she often worked through her lunch hour to make up the time. The Transit Authority allowed her to come 30 minutes late, but given the lack of suitable child care and other social supports, she ultimately lost her job.

Another important right these families often lack is one that professional workers take for granted: to make a phone call home, especially in the summer, when 1 in 10 children aged 6-12 is home alone or with a sibling under 13. [And here I thought I was being good by refraining from indulging in blue crack during my open office hours!--yolland]

2) Mandatory overtime leaves single mothers, divorced dads, and tag team families in jeopardy of losing their jobs. In a high-hours economy, single mothers often face no-win situations. Tenneco Packaging Burlington Container Plant involved a janitor who was the divorced mother of a 17-year old son with the mentality of an 18-month old. She had failed to report to work one Saturday when her son's caregiver could not work because her own child was sick. The janitor had been working 60-hour weeks for months. She was fired after 27 years' service.

Divorced dads face often discipline or discharge due to mandatory overtime. In Marion Composites, a factory worker was suspended three days for insubordination when he left after 8 hours of a 12-hour overtime shift. He was, according to the arbitrator, "an excellent employee who consistently worked overtime when asked to do so...He was never absent. He accepted overtime whenever the Company needed him. Indeed, his dedication to his work placed him in a situation that may have jeopardized his family responsibilities." When first asked to work overtime, he said he could not because he was "tired and worn out"–his wife had recently left him, and he had been so upset he had been feeling ill. Later that afternoon, he said he would help out the company, but that he could only stay for 8 hours because he had to get home to care for his 2 children. He stayed after the 8 hours was up, but became "distraught" after receiving a call from his wife, and left after 8 hours and 20 minutes. He was suspended for 3 days.

Overtime also poses problems for "tag team" families, where dad and mom work opposite shifts and each care for the kids when the other is at work. Tag teaming makes the design of overtime systems a major work/family issue. At U.S. Steel Corp., a factory worker stated that when his regular babysitter was sick, he preferred that his wife take off work because his wife's employer had a stricter absenteeism policy; he was suspended for 15 days for an unexcused absence.

3) Working class men often are unable or unwilling to bring up their family needs with their employers. Instead, they suffer in silence or to try to "come in under the radar screen" with unhappy results. In Tractor Supply Co., a grandfather was fired for insubordination when he refused to stay at work past his regular shift because he had to get home to care for his grandchild. That worker was reinstated by the arbitrator, but a UPS package delivery driver was not so lucky when he was fired for "theft of time" when he took off an extra hour and a quarter on 2 different days without telling his supervisors. He explained: "I took a 3-week vacation when my second son was born...Prior to this my wife had quit her job due to early contraction and had difficulty her last trimester. I was working up to 50–60 hrs week...At times, I was to return...[to work] with just 8 hours off in between. Barely enough time to sleep or recuperate...On my vacation time, with my new baby boy and my 2 ½ year old, my wife was laid up...recuperating...I had even less sleep...I was taking care of my two kids while I let my wife rest...Since [then] things haven’t calmed down [but] I returned to work...since I can no longer afford to be off for so long. One week later my wife got sick due to an infection...[and] ended up with a temperature of 104...Meanwhile, my first son was coughing and had the flu. As the newborn is still feeding every two hours, I was getting by on 2-3 hours of sleep a day...[I went] home and spent my lunch and breaks there to make sure every one at home was okay. But I lost track of time...My intention was [to be] there for my family but not to steal time, as I was accused of." He pointed to his two years of service, and said "I've always given the best of my ability to get the job done...Taking away my job from me has put my family in a financial hardship. I cannot survive with having 2 babies. And my wife being out of work. I deeply regret for what I’ve done, but I need my job back." He was fired.

4) Many workers are one sick child away from being fired. The union movement often views work/family issues as a luxury item rather than a central bargaining and organizing issue. In fact, work/family issues are core union issues, given that American workers rely heavily on family members to provide care for family members. In the absence of union protection, workers are vulnerable to discipline or discharge for doing what any conscientious parent, child, or spouse would do. Unions should use their ability to protect workers who need to fulfill their family responsibilities as a valuable organizing tool.

5) Employers’ inflexibility may well defeat their own business needs. The business case for family-responsive policies, almost always framed in terms of the need to retain highly trained professionals, may be even more pressing in the working-class context. The business case for family-responsive policies in the working-class context includes: improved quality and consumer safety; improved worker engagement and commitment, which has a direct link to profits; enhanced customer service and productivity; reduced stress, which drives down health insurance costs; cost savings due to enhanced recruitment and decreased turnover and absenteeism; and avoiding a loss of employer control in unionized workplaces. One example of the business case is an arbitration in which a quality control technician was required to report for work despite the fact that the hospital had instructed him that his wife, who had just had a miscarriage, should not be alone for the first 24 hours. The technician, who was 56 and had 15 years of seniority, became rattled when he called home and his wife did not answer the phone. He was fired after he failed to properly inspect carton seals but signed inspection forms saying he had done so.

6) Flexibility is possible in working-class jobs. We often hear that flexible work options "just aren’t possible" in working-class jobs. This misconception stems from the assumption that the only available model of workplace flexibility consists of individualized arrangements negotiated between an individual worker and an individual supervisor. That model, developed for professionals, often is unsuitable for nonprofessionals. Nonetheless, both employers and workers stand to benefit when workplaces provide flexibility for nonprofessionals.

This report finds five crucial steps any employer can take to help match the workplace to today’s workplace, including (1) providing family leave as required by law; (2) creating additional leaves to address work/family conflict, rather than leaving workers only with the option of calling in sick when they need to care for family members; (3) designing family-responsive overtime systems; (4) providing reduced hours and other flexible work options, and (5) recognizing that workplace inflexibility hurts the bottom line. Our report ends by outlining the specific kinds of workplace flexibility that are feasible and cost-effective in working-class jobs.
These arbitrations help explain why nearly one-third of all unionized employees surveyed--men as well as women--said that their biggest work-related concern was not having enough time for family and personal life. And these workers are the lucky ones: the 92% of American workers who are not unionized have no appeal. Their fate is dramatized by two incidents from California. (1) When a California restaurant worker’s child care fell through, she brought her daughter to the restaurant, where the child sat at an empty table while she completed her day’s work. Her boss said nothing, but fired her at the end of the day. (2) A California father took a day off work to enroll his son in grade school when his son came to live with him because his ex-wife was incarcerated. He called his employer to say that he had a family emergency, and his employer responded that he could not take the day off. When the dad reported for work the following day, he had lost his job.

This study holds important messages for the media and for policymakers, as well as for unions and employers. For the media, the report raises the question of whether work/family conflict should continue to be reported chiefly as a problem faced by professional women. The media would never cover unemployment by interviewing a handful of Yale students or a few laid-off friends from Princeton. Yet that’s how it typically covers work/family conflict, which also involves a major economic issue: in an era when 70% of households have all adults in the labor force, workplaces still often assume an ideal worker without child or other family care issues. In addition--and most importantly--the media’s overly autobiographical approach to covering work/family conflict has a negative impact on public policy.

For policymakers the crucial message is that work/family conflict is not just a professional women’s issue. Americans’ conflicts are so acute because of the lack of affordable child care, paid family leaves, limits on mandatory overtime, and scheduling flexibility that are available in other countries. Similar proposals in the U.S. will lack a constituency in the U.S. so long as work/family conflict is understood as "just a professional women’s problem."
Now in a few of these cases, I can certainly see where employees' own failures to adequately forewarn their employers of their problems probably contributed to the situation. And yes, there need to be some limits as to how much spillover from personal/family problems an employer can fairly be expected to accommodate. But overall, my main impression after reading all this is of a pattern of heartlessness and utter irresponsibility towards workers as human beings, whose needs and worth amount to more than the labor their hands provide.

I think it is sick to regard wanting a more fair and compassionate deal for these folks as "discriminatory" towards workers who don't have kids or ailing relatives to care for. Or to cast it as "Well that's your own damn problem for deciding to have kids to begin with--get your priorities straight and stop screwing your employer over." How can we rightfully claim to stand for a better economic future for all, when we allow such thinking to paint the very people who are providing and nourishing the human material for that future, into such an unforgiving economic corner?

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Old 03-15-2006, 01:25 PM   #2
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i'm so sick of this victim mentality.

people should take responsibility for their sick children.

why should corporate america concern itself with anything other than that which increases it's bottom line?

(sorry, bad mood today)

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Old 03-15-2006, 01:37 PM   #3
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I received this poem in a chain email recently on child abuse - I don't know who wrote it. It made me cry then and just copying it is making me well up right now.


My name is Sarah
I am but three,
My eyes are swollen
I cannot see,

I must be stupid,
I must be bad,
What else could have made
My daddy so mad?

I wish I were better,
I wish I weren't ugly,
Then maybe my Mommy
Would still want to hug me.

I can't speak at all,
I can't do a wrong
Or else I'm locked up
All the day long.

When I awake I'm all alone
The house is dark
My folks aren't home.

When my Mommy does come
I'll try and be nice,
So maybe I'll get just
One whipping tonight.

Don't make a sound!
I just heard a car
My daddy is back
From Charlie's Bar.

I hear him curse
My name he calls
I press myself
Against the wall.

I try and hide
From his evil eyes
I'm so afraid now
I'm starting to cry.

He finds me weeping
He shouts ugly words,
He says its my fault
That he suffers at work.

He slaps me and hits me
And yells at me more,
I finally get free
And I run for the door.

He's already locked it
And I start to bawl,
He takes me and throws me
Against the hard wall.

I fall to the floor
With my bones nearly broken,
And my daddy continues
With more bad words spoken.

"I'm sorry!", I scream
But its now much too late
His face has been twisted
Into unimaginable hate.

The hurt and the pain
Again and again
Oh please God, have mercy!
Oh please let it end!

And he finally stops
And heads for the door,
While I lay there motionless
Sprawled on the floor.

My name is Sarah
And I am but three,
Tonight my daddy
Murdered me.
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Old 03-15-2006, 03:01 PM   #4
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as a single working mother i deal with this quite frequently
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Old 03-15-2006, 03:18 PM   #5
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It used to happen to my mother too. Her boss was an asshole.

The discrimination may seem more blatant against blue collar workers, but it is just as present in the white collar world in the form of corporate restructuring. The only difference when it happens to a white collar worker is that they are often offered a (pathetic) severence payment when they are let go.
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Old 03-16-2006, 12:14 AM   #6
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I was a single working mother and it was very difficult. Most of the time I accrued AND sick time was taken to deal with my son's illnesses, Dr appts, and when he was in so much trouble in school as a teen. Now I'm dealing with an ailing mother. I could really use a vacation with my own accrued and hard earned vacation time......hey what a concept? But then I don't make enough to be able to spend on a nice vacation. Ah well, that's quite another thread topic, isn't it? Seems we can't win for losing, We struggle day after day. And my boss has the balls to say to me I should consider myself lucky that in this day and age I have a job and health insurance cuz a lot of people don't. I just want to kick him.
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Old 03-16-2006, 05:32 AM   #7
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How's your son doing now, though, Carek1230?
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Old 03-16-2006, 11:27 AM   #8
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Hi yolland,

Did you by chance get the email replies I sent you last week?

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Old 03-16-2006, 02:59 PM   #9
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It's kind of a double edged sword. I as a single person without kids or ailing parents shoud NOT have to work overtime because of those who have those issues, though. Not to be selfish, but I have a life, and it shouldn't be assumed that I am willing to have it eaten into because of someone else's thing.
ON the other hand, I am usually sympathetic and will take an extra shift it it's an emergency. Nothing like, "My kid has a slight cold." So what. Take that little bugger to school with a box of tissues. He'll live. If your kid got his head bashed in? Get tot he hospital, I'll be there in half an hour.
There just needs to be some common sense boundaries laid down so nobody is overtaxed.
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Old 03-16-2006, 05:44 PM   #10
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I think most of those cases cited in the article are really outrageous. There has to be some flexibility and compassion where people are dealing with family matters. It doesn't just extend to children, however - many people have disabled spouses, or elderly parents to take care of and nobody ever thinks of them.

However, how do you address the fact that oftentimes when people are away for family matters, somebody else picks up the slack? I can tell you from my own workplace that when somebody's child has an ear infection or gets into a fight at school, etc, causing the parent to leave early or take a day off, this results in one or two childless, usually single, but always childless people to pick up the slack and stay overtime. So instead of going home at 5, they stay till 8 without compensation. When it happens 2 or 3 times in a month, the resentment builds and I just saw it across the hall where one woman whose kids were grown and living away from home was expected to stay and finish up the work of another who has a young kid who first skinned their chin, they thought she needed stitches, but didn't. That was one day. Then it was spring break and the babysitter bailed last minute, so that was another day and a half because she couldn't find anyone until the following afternoon. Finally there was a field trip for which she'd volunteered to go as a parent supervisor and forgot about, then remembered last minute. So somebody else, through no fault of their own, didn't get to go home until late in the evening for three days, and right now can't stomach the sight of the other woman. It's tough but I kind of understand her point as well.
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Old 03-16-2006, 05:53 PM   #11
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Originally posted by anitram
I think most of those cases cited in the article are really outrageous. There has to be some flexibility and compassion where people are dealing with family matters.

and, so often, domestic partners with cancer or brain tumors or a broken hip are not legally considered family members.
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Old 03-16-2006, 05:55 PM   #12
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I agree with anitram's post. I'm very fortunate to work in an environment that is very supportive when it comes to family needs. I know other departments within my compnay aren't as lucky.

It also helps matters if you're in an industry where people can work from home. We don't have a lot of slack that needs to be picked up by others because most of us in this department are able to work from home if need be.

It's a tough situation. As a childless person, I can easily see myself becoming resentful if I were consistently asked to cover for someone else. But I'm also a sympathetic person, and I'd hate to begrudge a coworker for needing to stay home with a sick child. I'd probably end up being really passive-aggressive about it.
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Old 03-16-2006, 06:14 PM   #13
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There were many reasons Rick and I chose self employment and child care was at the top of our list.

I started working full time when my youngest child was a year old and from that point on, it was an endless cycle of stress, guilt and worry. My son was constantly sick and it wasn't unusual for me to have to leave work, get him from the babysitter and rush him to the ER. My co-workers were awesome and even took turns driving me to the hospital but I still felt terribly guilty.

My boss was horrible though and one day when I called in because I had no sitter, he told me to leave my son home alone and check on him at lunch time

I can't even express how much I hated leaving early or staying home due to a sick child or sitter problems. I didn't want my problems to become someone else's problems, even when they told me they didn't mind covering for me...I knew better.
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Old 03-16-2006, 11:14 PM   #14
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Originally posted by foray
How's your son doing now, though, Carek1230?

Thanks for asking. He's almost 20 and in his 2nd year college, working PT and just bought a new car. He's active and health conscious and very social so even tho he is only about 30 miles away I never see him! He's doing alright though, and we do talk on the phone nearly every day.
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Old 03-16-2006, 11:19 PM   #15
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These articles are much more representative of many corporate company policies than many of you realize.
When I was going through the decline of my Fathers health this time last year, I was on a 90 day probation period on a new job. I could not miss any work or else I would not be employed after the probationary period.
This left my sisters to carry the load and put their own jobs in jeapordy. I was lucky I had other family members to take care of Dad when I couldn't and I can't help but wonder what happens to someone who isn't fortunate enough to have 2 or 3 sisters/brothers. I know what happens - they get fired.
Even when the nurse said to call the family members, that he may not make it through the day.. I left and was wrtten up for a scheldule adherence violation. Since he didn't die at those times I still have this on my record. This happened twice before he passed away.
The worst part is the company didn't even tell me my sister had called untill my break time, and my father was dying, . I got home him 15 minutes after he had died. The bastards..
I have two co-workers who have been terminated recently for having the flu for a week or 2 and the other because her children have been sick and she missed alot of work.
And yes I am working mandatory overtime because the "Company" let so many hard working people go, that it has caused the rest of us have to bust or asses to make up the work. This is the worst company policy I have ever worked for and I hate it but have to stay while I have insurance and get everything taken care of then I'm leaving the "helping you create the good life" company. They've made my life miserable..

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