Just under 70% of fathers surveyed said they'd change jobs to spend more time with their children — but despite the positive impact paid paternity leave has on relationships, child development, and workplace productivity, many workers, even union members, don't have access to paid paternity leave.
As a union, you can leverage your relationship with employers to support your members' families and help them get the time off they need.
The Importance of Paid Leave for Fathers
Paid leave for fathers impacts not only a single member but also their family and employer. Fathers who take paid time off after the birth of a child tend to be more involved in the child's life over the long term. There is evidence that having an involved father contributes to long-term positive cognitive and emotional development in children. Paid leave has also been shown to increase gender equality by boosting female workforce participation and decreasing divorce rates, since parents can share more of the responsibilities of child rearing.
For employers, look to studies and surveys conducted over the past few years, which suggest that men who take such leave are more productive once they're back on the job. Morale is higher, retention improves and absenteeism decreases — new fathers are generally more loyal to an organization that offers leave. Unions stand to benefit from increased member satisfaction, especially if the union bargained for paid paternity leave.
The Current State of This Benefit Offering
Unfortunately, few employers in the United States offer paid leave to their workers after the birth of a child. Only 20% of private sector employees work at a job where most or all male employees have access to paid paternity leave. And, just five states (and a handful of cities) require employers to offer paid leave for both new moms and dads. Fathers without access must use vacation time or rely on the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which gives most new parents up to 12 weeks off after the birth of a child. Though the FMLA protects workers from being fired for taking this time off, that time is unpaid, and not many families can afford to go three months without a paycheck. Further, employees don't automatically receive FMLA benefits — they must qualify for leave.
Advocate Paternity Leave for Your Members
As a union leader, you have the opportunity to use your position during the bargaining process to advocate paid leave on behalf of fathers.
This starts with understanding what your members need. First, develop a survey or conduct informal feedback sessions to decide specifically what members value from employers. Is it a certain number of weeks or months of leave? Are all weeks paid at 100%, or are some paid at 80%? From there, create a plan based on what your members share and what might be feasible within their existing contracts.
Once you know what you're asking for, use your next round of bargaining with the employer to discuss your request for paid paternity leave. Come to the meeting armed with feedback from members along with facts on the economic benefit to employers when paid leave is provided.
And don't stop at just the employers. Unions can also play a role in lobbying elected representatives to encourage them to change the laws governing paid leave. Ask your members to get involved in an advocacy campaign and share stories with legislators about the importance of being with a child in the early weeks of life.
As you work with employers to adopt paid parental leave policies, prioritize good communicate strategies to share your activities and progress with members. Let them know your goals from the beginning. Inform them of current worker policies and any laws that protect their ability to take leave without losing their job, and give them a place to ask questions. Once you've secured the benefit, let members know and encourage them to take advantage of the offering. Members may initially have worries related to job security if they take leave, so it's up to the union to let them know that they're protected.
Heather Kerrigan started her career in journalism at Governing magazine, reporting on state and local politics and policy, with a specific focus on public workforce, environment, health care, education and technology issues. Prior to co-founding River Horse Communications, Heather offered freelance editorial services to a variety of outlets, including serving as volume editor and lead author for SAGE Publications' Historic Documents series and editor-in-chief of The Kanter Journal. Heather is the author of the book Retire Rich With Your 401(k) Plan. She holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from The George Washington University.