Our latest reminder that family-friendly benefits are not, in fact, confined to Silicon Valley comes from an unlikely source: the Iron Workers union.
At their conference earlier this year, the Iron Workers union and the Ironworker Management Progressive Action Cooperative Trust (IMPACT) announced a new maternity leave benefit that will provide female iron workers with six months paid leave pre-delivery and another six to eight weeks post-delivery.
The goal of the benefit is to improve female talent retention in an industry where women don’t represent a huge percentage of the workforce, but where every worker represents a significant investment. Front-loading the leave to the pre-birth period allows workers to avoid some of the unique health challenges inherent to the trade without jeopardizing their benefits … or their pregnancy.
“When we first started talking about it, I wasn’t sure how we’d pull it off or what it would cost,” Bill Brown, the CEO of Ben Hur Construction and co-chair of IMPACT, said in a press release. “But we realized that it’s an investment because we want our well-trained ironworker women to come back to work.”
Brown’s “back-of-the-envelope calculations,” as reported on BuzzFeed, estimate training a new ironworker costs $32,000 over a four-year apprenticeship … and that’s on top of the worker’s regular salary.
“So when you add payroll to 32K a year, and you lose a woman worker, you’re out more than 32K,” Brown told BuzzFeed. “Then you have to train another person to take their place, so it’s a 64K proposition if you lose one female apprentice. … To protect our investment, if we wanted women to stay in our industry, we had to do something.”
A Benefit as Unique as It is Riveting
The Iron Workers maternity leave benefit is a rarity ... and not just among labor unions.
The United States is (still) the only developed nation in the world without a federal policy providing paid leave for new moms after the birth of a child. Fewer than 15 percent of private sector workers have access to paid leave through their employer. And, as SHRM and the Families and Work Institute point out in their latest report, the “media blitz” around paid leave announcements over the past few years was not representative of a nationwide trend.
As the BuzzFeed piece points out, the overall length of the Iron Workers’s maternity leave puts the benefit on par with the most generous employer-provided plans, which are often found in the tech and professional services industries where competition for talent is fierce.
Unfortunately, this type of clustering can give the impression that family-friendly benefits, like paid parental leave and child care assistance, are only for highly-paid workers at elite companies in thriving industries. That’s simply not true, and the Iron Workers maternity leave benefits are the latest in a growing list of developments dispelling that myth.
Earlier this year, Duke Energy announced it was introducing fully paid parental leave for all of its employees. The North Carolina-based utility’s new policy provides six weeks of paid leave to all employees after the birth, adoption or foster placement of a child, while birth moms get a total of 12 weeks.
Last fall, restauranteur Danny Meyer announced Union Square Hospitality Group would be rolling out a new parental leave policy that would be available to all full-time employees … both in the front and back of the house. The policy, according Eater New York, will provide 100 percent of base wages for the first four weeks after birth or adoption, and 60 percent of base wages for the next four.
The Right Thing to Do ... Economically Speaking
In its coverage of the Iron Workers new maternity leave benefit, the Labor Tribune reported the number of women joining the Local 396 in Greater St. Louis has been steadily increasing in recent years. One of those women is Aurora Bihler, a fourth-year apprentice bent on building a career and a family.
“For me this is life-changing,” Bihler told the Labor Trib. “I thought I would have to quit my job to have a family. With this new policy, I can take leave, have a safe pregnancy and go back to work.”
For the Iron Workers, introducing paid maternity leave was the right thing to do from the medical and workforce development perspective. It’s 2017 … and the reality is diversity is an economic driver.
Private and public employers “are insisting that the workforce on the construction site replicate the workforce in the community,” Brown, the IMPACT co-chair, told BuzzFeed. “And so we needed a more diverse workforce to satisfy new hiring requirements for minorities, women and veterans.
“It’s socially the right thing to do, but it’s not a bad business proposition either."
Read on care.com