How Labor Unions Bargain for Sick and Vacation


The passage of the National Labor Relations Act in 1935 saw the creation of unions, and they have since been existence. Their main mandate is to safeguard the rights of the employees, ensure safe working environments, and negotiate for their members through collective bargaining, and in the case of an impasse, they engage in economic strikes. Under the current US laws, the Thomson Reuters (2016) noted that the employers were not obligated to give sick and vacation time leave to their workers. The Working-Families. Org (2012) corroborated this statement by noting that the US lacks standard for earned paid sick leave. The lack of such federal laws may see some employers dock the pay or dismiss a sick employee for staying home to recover. The statistics given by Working-Families. Org (2012) showed that around 42% of the United States laborers did not earn any paid sick leave. The lack of earned paid sick leaves is a threat to the economic security of the employees and their families while forcing employees to work when feeling unwell is a public health risk.

Nevertheless, the majority of employers are offering these benefits to their full time employees as a way to retaining them and giving job satisfaction. Owing to the fact the law does not mandate sick and vacation leave, agreements for such provisions can only be reached between the employees, through their representative in a labor union, and the employers. Employers may define the terms that such benefits carry in employee handbooks, but be wary and conversant with the legal implications of such steps (Thomson Reuters, 2016). A minimum standard for these benefits will increase the protection for families and communities, and strengthen the economy (Working-Families. Org, 2012).

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Labor Unions Bargain for Sick and Vacation

The paid sick and vacation leave benefits can thus be bargained for by the unions. The union will achieve this through a collective bargaining process, which is the process through which an organization and employees’ representatives or union engage in negotiations necessary to reach a contract agreement. The union engages the employers in good faith, meaning that it actively participates in the discussion with a desire to get the basis for agreement. Indeed, both the employer and the union must undertake good faith bargaining by refraining from sham negotiations, altering the terms of the bargain or one party refusing to meet the other and bargain (, 2016).

Just like any other collective bargaining process, the union follows the necessary steps.

First, both parties should be prepared for the negotiations. The union should have members who clearly understand the situation at hand and have good negotiation skills. The union should set out a proper and clear agenda. In this context, the union prepares to present the conditions and dissatisfaction expressed by the employees for the lack of sick and vacation leave pays. Besides, the union reviews the past contracts to see whether there were any provisions over the same matter.

In the second step, the union agrees with the employer on the working timelines as well as the ground rules for how the negotiations will occur. In the third step, the parties meet at the agreed venue and table their proposals. The negotiation process goes on for a while, after which an agreement or settlement is reached. If the given terms are favorable, a new contract is written and the union signs. However, on the condition they disagree, they begin the process over again. When they totally fail to reach a consensus, the union may ask the employees to engage in a strike to show their displeasure.

The federal and state laws have set the floor necessary to negotiate for a wider work family contract language. The Working-Families. Org (2012) noted that, using these laws, the union can bargain for additional protections in the collective bargaining agreement. To achieve this, the union needs to clarify and make the existing definitions much broader and encompassing.

Areas Used by Labor Unions to Strengthen and Enhance Vacation and Sick Paid Leaves

Cover the Current Laws

The labor union includes the existing federal, local and state laws on paid vacation and sick days. In addition, it considers the related provisions such as the family leave laws so that any arising dissimilitude will be subjected to the grievances and arbitration process at the employees’ option (Working-Families.Org, 2012). The family leave laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 allows workers to take time off from normal jobs to look after their families, recuperate from a serious illness or respond to an emergency within an assured job upon returning. The Family and Medical Leave Act permits bonafide employees to take an unpaid leave of up to 12 weeks annually to take care for a newborn, newly adopted baby, a serious personal illness, or an ailing person.

The union can also refer to cases where there are provision for paid sick leave and vacations. For instance, for emergency or short term leaves, the Harvard University and the Harvard Clerical and Technical Workers Union’s case can be cited. The two parties agreed that the members would be allowed a paid release time for brief absences to address emergencies. The adoption leave cab be bargained in reference to the California State University Board of Trustees and the California Faculty Association, where it was agreed that employees would take up to 20 paid days upon the adoption of a new child (AFL-CIO, 2001).

The Bureau of National Affairs and the CWA/TNG Local 35 contract could also be used by the labor union as a basis for their sick and vacation paid leave for its employees. In this contract, it was understood that caring for the sick family member was a big challenge facing the working families. Besides using the vacation time, it was agreed that an employee would use his 5 sick leave days to look after the ailing family members. A paid vacation leave could be bargained by referring to the SEIU Local 399 and Hope Community Mental Health Cent where a stress paid leave of a day for every year worked was granted (AFL-CIO, 2001).

Paid Time Off

In their negotiations, the labor union can refer to the paid time off while bargaining for a paid sick and vacation leave. The paid time off is the alternative to the traditional paid leave plans, and it is at the discretion of the employees for any reason, including rest, family responsibilities, personal business, illness, among others.

Sick Leave for Pregnancy

The labor unions can use this basis to bargain for a language that permits mothers to use the accrued sick leave for pregnancy periods and the related disability.

Expanded Coverage and Definition of Family

The labor unions negotiate for language that allows workers to use their sick leave to look after family members. They should broaden the definition of family members that will be covered by the paid sick leave, such as the siblings, grandparents, domestic partners, grandchildren, foster children, and in-laws. The labor unions should bargain for provisions that will include leave for children’s school activities, and health appointments. For example, the labor union can refer to the contract between the State of California and the AFSCME Local 2620 where the members were negotiated for up to 40 hours of mentoring or school related issues per year (AFL-CIO, 2001). The mentoring time leave is paid and does not include the travelling time used in travelling to and from the site of mentoring.

Extended Sick Leave

The labor unions can bargain for paid sick and vacation leave by including provisions that will give an assurance to the employees of an additional sick leave on condition of a health condition outlasting the available sick leave.

Sick Leave Bank and Donated Leave

The union negotiates for the employees to be granted the right to bank their sick leave for emergencies get such days in advance or transfer their accumulated leave to their colleagues who could have exhausted theirs yet they needed extra time to recuperate or attend to some outstanding issues (Working-Families. Org, 2012). An example of a provision for the donated leave is the contract that involved the Van Bourg law firm and the Office and Professional Employees Local 3. In this contract, a policy that allowing workers to donate their sick and vacation benefits that exceeded two weeks to their employees with catastrophic illness was negotiated. Besides, a worker who was quitting employment was permitted to transfer his accrued vacation time or sick leave days to a fellow employee in need (AFL-CIO, 2001).

Components of the Collective Bargaining Agreement on Vacation and Sick Leave

After the negotiations, the collection bargaining agreement is likely to have the following elements.

Number of Days

The employer and the union will agree on the number of days that the employee will be entitled for in a year to take a paid vacation or sick leave. Where the policy is broadly written, it will be at the discretion of the employee to use the time for any reason, including the individual’s or family’s illness, personal business, or to attend to school for a child.

Terms and Notice

The agreement will contain reasonable requirements for communication the intents to take a leave, considering that emergencies happen and may not be the same as the notice for a vacation. The agreement will be clear on whether there are specific days that the vacation leave is granted.


The collective bargaining agreement should be such that it allows employees to accumulate their leave days. In addition, the agreement should be that it has allotted reasonable leave out time.


The agreement should be clear on how the employee can use the available leave time. It should state as to whether it will be used in hourly or part-day increments, especially where a worker needs a few hours for a doctor’s appointment.


In the agreement, it should be clear on the amount of time that can roll over from one calendar year to the other.


Today, the majority of American employers do not give paid sick or vacation leaves because there are no federal or state provisions mandating them to. Women are forced to go back to their jobs right away after the delivery because there is no time off. Such an environment is outrageous as people must be given time to recover from whichever form of illness, take care of the needy family members and other emergencies. The labor unions can help resolve this problem by engaging employers in a collective bargaining process. Using various laws, cases and standards, the labor unions can justify their proposals, and after the deliberations, the agreement is signed outlining the necessary provisions.



AFL-CIO. (2001). Bargaining fact sheet: Family leave and expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act. Washington, DC. (2016). What is collective bargaining? Retrieved December 7, 2016, from

Thomson Reuters. (2016). Vacation and sick leave. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from Thomson Reuters:

Working-Families.Org. (2012). Unions win it: Paid sick days. Retrieved December 7, 2016, from Working-Families.Org: