Unions Provide Paid Parental Leave and a Better Life

Union jobs gave Amanda and Justin Aurelius something priceless this summer and fall: Time off together with their new baby and toddler son, and the means to buy their very first house.

“It’s been the best time,” says Justin, an AFSCME Local 701 Executive Board member and father of two. “It’s like winning a lottery ticket, the time with your family, the bonding.”

The Granite Falls 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. “They don’t realize the benefits, how important they are to the rest of your life. If you don’t have a college degree, 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 union, having worked at UPS before. But Amanda says she had no clue until Justin got a job at an MSOCS 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 his 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. 

“I love giving back,” Justin says. “They smile and it will bring a big smile to your face, the improvement you see. The dignity of service, we give them the same service you’d give your mother. Every day you go in, you give them our best.”

“It’s really gratifying,” Amanda adds.

Thanks to their union, the couple is treated with the same dignity they provide their clients. So they watched anxiously when the Supreme Court’s anti-worker Janus decision came down. They’ve heard coworkers talk about dropping their membership. 

But Justin points out that the money paid in dues is a drop in the bucket compared to the benefits won.

“Freeloaders, it’s not fair,” Justin says. “If you’re getting something out of your union, you should pay something into it. It hurts all of us if you’re not going to contribute to what we’re building towards.”

“To choose to not pay union dues, it could wipe it out,” Amanda says. “We don’t want that. We wouldn’t have the life we have if it wasn’t for our union. We could lose what we have if people decide to leave.”

“We don’t want right to work,” Justin adds. “We want our union. It protects all of us and gives us the benefits we need to move forward and make a better life for all of us.”