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By AFSCME Council 5 Explore the Issues Workers' Rights

Union jobs gave Amanda and Justin Aurelius something priceless last year: Time off together with their new baby and toddler son.

“It’s been the best time,” says Justin, an AFSCME Local 701 (Council 5) executive board member and father of two. “It’s like winning a lottery ticket, the time with your family, the bonding.”

The Granite Falls, Minnesota, couple’s situation was much different a few years ago after the birth of their oldest son, Marvin.  Justin didn’t qualify for paid parental leave yet, and Amanda worked in the private sector.

“I had a C-section,” Amanda recalls. “After 10 days, Justin was going back to work. I couldn’t lift Marvin the first six weeks. Financially, it was really difficult. We had to move in with my mother-in-law at one point.”

This time around, because they both had union-won paid parental leave, Amanda had time to heal. She had her husband by her side. They had time to bond with their new baby and help their older son adjust. And they didn’t take a financial hit.

“A lot of young people don’t have a clue about unions,” Justin says. “If you’re a working-class person, the fact you have someone on your side fighting for a better wage, a better quality of life, it’s very important.”

Justin already knew the benefits of being in a union, having worked at UPS before. But Amanda says she had no clue until Justin got a job at a Minnesota State Operated Community Services group home. She knew unions existed, but didn’t know what they did or why they were important. She began noticing Justin’s benefits, all won by workers who negotiated them through their union. When she got a job at that group home, she joined AFSCME Local 701, too.

The couple works to help people with disabilities live more independent lives. The job is as demanding as it is rewarding. They work holidays, changing shifts and can work overnights. The people they serve have conditions like schizophrenia and severe autism.

Thanks to their union, the couple makes sure they are treated with the same dignity they provide their clients. So they watched anxiously when the U.S. Supreme Court’s anti-worker Janus v. AFSCME Council 31 decision came down. They discourage co-workers who talk about dropping their membership.

“It hurts all of us if you’re not going to contribute to what we’re building towards,” Justin says.

Council 5 also supports a bill pending in the Minnesota legislature that would provide family caregivers at least partial wage replacement for up to 12 weeks. According to Minnesota Public Radio, the benefit would also be available to parents of newly born or newly adopted children. To pay for the benefit, “employers would face assessments toward a new state fund similar to unemployment insurance,” MPR reports. “And they would be barred from firing or demoting an employee who applies for leave.”