June 11, 2006

Family Values My Butt: UC Study Shows Working Class Parents Get Screwed

Considering that the study appears to be largely an exercise in awareness-raising, it was really disheartening to see how little coverage "One Sick Child Away From Being Fired: When 'Opting Out' Isn't an Option" got in the media when it was released in March.

WorkLife Law, an advocacy organization based at UC Hastings Law School, presented the study to show examples of job discrimination that blue-collar and service workers face when they try to juggle family and work responsibilities. The study looks at 99 cases of worker-employer arbitration that involved parental (and grandparental) responsibilities.

There's no indication how representative these cases are of working class experience, but it's probably safe to assume they're the extreme tip of a large iceberg; arbitration results are rarely made public, and by definition, only occur in unionized workplaces, a small fraction of total nonprofessional jobs. And the report details the underlying inflexibility, real and perceived, that nonprofessionals face at work.

Besides rendering the whole "opt-out" media discussion moot for a large section of the parent population, the study's other big finding is that work/balance is not just/even a women's issue at all; when both moms and dads work in inflexible, family-unfriendly situations, their ability to care for their kids is curtailed. Work/family balance turns out to be a blue-collar dad's issue, too/after all.

But my big beef, besides the fact that dads are getting screwed at work, is why I have to learn about these things from a British newspaper? Because there was almost no coverage in the US, except for a March post on Salon Broadsheet, and a Mother's Day op-ed in the Washington Post, which Jeremy at Daddy Dialectic responded to. I think a ball has been dropped here.

"One Sick Child Away From Being Fired: When 'Opting Out' Isn't an Option," [uchastings.edu via observer uk]


wow, thanks for the heads-up. that thud i just heard was definitely a ball being dropped. (or my head hitting the desk.)

i doubt american parenting mags will give this much play. first off, it's a downer (and not a GOOD downer like "The 11 Things In Your House That Can Kill Your Child"!) and second, who wants their advertisers to think their readership is working class?

but i'm a bit surprised and saddened that its gotten so little newspaper play.

As a guy who makes his living as an HR/recruitment professional, all I can say is...duh. Are people really surprised by this?

The reality is that the driving force behind work/life balance for dads are well-paid upper middle to upper class white collar workers. Sure, a software engineer will have the ability (wireless laptops are a wonderful thing) to work from home - but the crucial factor is that he has the leverage that a rare and much-needed skill set brings. The perception is that the blue-collar workers are easily trained - and cheaply replaced. This is a perception that's rarely true, especially in a moderately decent job market; there are unmeasured costs to recruiting, training, and lost work hours while the company looks to replace the worker. There are a small batch of companies who recognize this and who offer flex hours and job-sharing to employees at all levels, but sadly, they're a drop in the bucket.

A good friend of mine was told by his employer, a major industrial supply company, that he couldn't take FMLA or even request it if he didn't "do it right after the baby was born." (You have up to a year after birth to take FMLA). Then they proceeded to harass him until he left the job. No, it isn't news to anyone, but neither is this "mommy war" junk. It still begs your question: why doesn't this get the press?

And yet Linda Hirshman is in the news again... (claiming dads don't stay home, no less, http://msnbc.msn.com/id/13249203/site/newsweek/).

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