[Excerpt] In the late 1970s, for the first time in our nation's history, coal miners started getting pregnant.

In many cases, the mother had spent years fighting to get her coal mining job, fought against sexual harassment and discrimination in the mines, and worked hard to prove her competence and gain acceptance as a miner. For some, pregnancy forced them to quit their jobs, give up their seniority and lose their health insurance just when they needed it most. For others, pregnancy meant worries about the potential effects of mining on the fetus.

In response to this problem and to the dramatic need of their union brothers, a small band of women miners—constituting less than 2% of the United Mine Workers of America— developed a campaign for parental leave as a formal employee benefit. At a minimum, parental leave would allow mothers and fathers to safeguard their jobs and insurance coverage while taking adequate time off to safely bring children into the world and to care for them during serious illnesses.

The women miners have focused their campaign on two fronts simultaneously — building support for a parental leave clause in the UMWA contract and for federal legislation that would affect all working parents. Both approaches build on each other and connect with the efforts of women in other unions as momentum is gathering for a new approach to the relationship of family and work.