Working mothers represented by unions are 17% more likely to use paid maternity leave than mothers not represented by unions. All workers expecting a new baby have the same worry: can she take maternity leave? What are the conditions surrounding it? Will she receive compensation? How can the government help with maternity leave conditions? Policymakers struggle to facilitate paid maternity leave for working mothers and the same trouble is faced by workers in different countries.
In the United States, the case is different; mothers face far more challenges. The United States is the only developed nation where universal paid leave for new parents is missing, though some states and employers have such programs. Lack of federal support has forced its existing conditions below the belt.
The only federal law backing new parents in the United States is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which does not support payment during her time off but guarantees that she will still have the job after the maternity leave. However, the law only applies to companies of a certain size. The law omits mothers working in small companies, which makes a large swath of workers. Statistically, only 10% of mothers in the US take maternity leave, with affordability as the major factor preventing others.
Old-fashioned institution: unions can help new mothers
A study led by professor Tae-Youn Park of Vanderbilt University found that old-fashioned institution: unions can help new mothers to solve this problem. The study found that women represented by unions are 17% more likely to take maternity leave than nonunion workers. Not investigating how the unions help workers in benefit bargain, the study looked into how the women were able to take advantage of the available benefits.
Park identified for four factors that prevent women from taking maternity leave and how to handle them.
- Availability: maternity leave should be established or made available
- Awareness: the workers need to be informed such programs exist
- Affordability: the leave should not be designed to frustrate the mothers
- Assurance: workers should be aware that taking paid maternity leave doesn't attract negative consequences
A woman provided with paid maternity leave benefit need to be aware that such program exists and accessible. They also need to be informed that the leave would not bring consequences such as promotion denial in the long run, or loss of pay time.
The research, which drew conclusion after sampling data from 4,108 workers, found that interacting with union representatives who always advocate, educate and help workers to improve in communication and self-advocacy skills. They often acquire this attribute by just attending meetings and participating in other union activities. Women with union representative were found to take leave more than women without union representation.
The presence of a union does not suggest it's just a body to assist workers in securing better bargains and benefits. Union also helps workers to identify employers with standard employee benefits and perks aside from understanding more about their entitlements. However, the study also found that unions could not protect mothers with maternity leaves longer than six weeks. Unions can't single-handedly fix leave issues facing working moms.