Unions back law to protect pregnant workers

WASHINGTON (PAI) — A large group of unions and related organizations, led by the AFL-CIO and the Coalition of Labor Union Women (CLUW), back proposed legislation to strengthen the Pregnancy Discrimination Act.

The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act “would promote nondiscrimination by ensuring that pregnant workers are not forced out of their jobs unnecessarily or denied reasonable job modifications that would allow them to continue working and supporting their families,” the coalition of groups said. 

The new bill, backers said, would only clarify for the courts that employers must take reasonable moves to accommodate a pregnant woman on the job, such as letting her have time to rehydrate, or having someone else help her move heavy objects, rather than arbitrarily putting the woman on leave – or firing her. 

“What you expect when you’re pregnant should not include expecting to lose your job,” said Naomi Walker, the AFL-CIO’s director of state and local affairs. 

Telling a story of a pregnant New York woman worker who was fired, sued and lost in court, lead sponsor Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said “the (federal) judge wrote that she ‘was lost in the gaps for pregnant women and the law.’ “

“Clearly the courts are uncertain” about pregnancy discrimination, he said. “So we have to clarify the law.” 

Lawmakers at the May 8 press conference unveiling the legislation were split about whether it would succeed this year, given the GOP-run House and the jammed congressional calendar.

“This bill should be one to easily pass, if we had a more congenial Congress,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. But drafters seek GOP co-sponsors and a Senate version will be introduced soon. 

“This Congress doesn’t do a lot of things it should do. This Congress doesn’t do a lot of things it might do. This Congress doesn’t do a lot of things you want it to do. But that doesn’t mean it won’t do this one,” Nadler added. 

Backers say the problem is that many employers still flout present law that bans discrimination against pregnant female workers, by shifting them into lower-paying jobs or forcing them out entirely. Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., said federal figures show pregnancy-related employment discrimination complaints have jumped by 35% in the last decade alone. 

“Under current pregnancy law, employers cannot discriminate based on pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions,” the groups wrote to lawmakers. 

“This means employers cannot fire, refuse to hire, or otherwise treat an employee adversely because of pregnancy and must treat pregnant workers at least as well as those similar in their ability or inability to work. Despite these existing protections, pregnant workers are all too often forced out of their jobs unnecessarily and denied the minor modifications to job duties, job rules or job policies that would enable them to continue working.” 

In one case, Wal-Mart fired Heather Wiseman from its Salina, Kansas, store “because she needed to carry a water bottle to stay hydrated and prevent bladder infections.” And a Beverly chain nursing home in Valparaiso, Ind., terminated activities director Victoria Serednyj “because she required help with some physically strenuous aspects of her job to prevent having another miscarriage,” their letter added.

Both women lost in court, despite the present ban on discrimination based on pregnancy, which is part of the Americans With Disabilities Act. Both Wal-Mart and Beverly are also notorious for other labor law breaking. 

“Despite the protections of ” current law, “pregnant women are still often treated worse than other workers who may be limited in their ability to perform certain aspects of a job,” the coalition signing the letter said. 

Walker said afterwards that the AFL-CIO “will push the bill by providing lobbying support and talking to members (of Congress) about it.” 

Besides the AFL-CIO and CLUW, other labor groups in the 150-member coalition for the new anti-discrimination bill include: 9to5 and several of its affiliates, AFSCME, the Teachers, the Association Employees Union, the Communications Workers, the Labor Project for Working Families, the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Education Association, the National Employment Law Project, Pride at Work, the Restaurant Opportunities Center and its Miami affiliate, the United Food and Commercial Workers and its Local 5, and Young Workers United.

Photo: People’s World



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.