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Pregnant Workers Fairness Act takes a step forward in the House, this week in the war on workers

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The Pregnant Workers Fairness Act took a step toward a full House vote on Wednesday when it passed in the House Committee on Education and Labor. “The federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) would explicitly require employers to make reasonable accommodations for women with pregnancy-related limitations absent undue hardship to the employer—the same familiar process in place for workers with disabilities under the ADA,” A Better Balance co-president Dina Bakst explained in The Hill.

The good news is that 27 states have passed similar laws to this one that is unlikely to get a vote in Mitch McConnell’s Senate. The bad news (aside from the final clause in that previous sentence) is that in other states, women continue to be forced between their jobs and a healthy pregnancy. CBS News reported on some typical cases: a paramedic whose ambulance company employer refused to transfer her to a desk job, even though there were some available; and an airport passenger services agent who had to go to the ER after she was pulled onto a luggage belt while moving a suitcase, and whose employer similarly refused to reassign her.

These are not isolated experiences. According to an ACLU attorney, “Roughly a quarter of a million women a year don’t get the accommodations they need to keep working.”

Congress needs to pass—and some president needs to sign—the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on January 18, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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Far-right effort to smear Elizabeth Warren flops. Turns out pregnancy discrimination is a thing

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Elizabeth Warren and the entire history of women’s employment in the 1970s are swatting away a claim by a far-right website disputing Warren’s story of losing her first teaching job because she was visibly pregnant at the end of her first year. The Free Beacon found documents claiming that Warren was offered a second-year teaching contract but resigned. However, there are a lot more documents showing that it was absolutely standard for women to lose teaching jobs because they were pregnant, and Twitter was quick to bring those receipts.

The key rebuttal to the claim that Warren wasn’t really forced out in 1971? A 1972 news story from New Jersey, the state where Warren was teaching, reporting that “Pregnant teachers can no longer be automatically forced out of New Jersey’s classrooms.” To repeat, “automatically forced out.” But many other headlines prove just how standard that was, as historian Joshua Zeitz shows.

Warren herself had a typically straightforward, non-defensive response:

She told CBS News that, as the documents Free Beacon found indicate, she had initially been offered a second-year teaching contract. But that’s not the whole story, she said: “I was pregnant, but nobody knew it. And then a couple of months later when I was six months pregnant and it was pretty obvious, the principal called me in, wished me luck, and said he was going to hire someone else for the job.”

Other people who taught in the same New Jersey district at the time didn’t remember Warren’s specific case, but did confirm the policy. “The rule was at five months you had to leave when you were pregnant. Now, if you didn’t tell anybody you were pregnant, and they didn’t know, you could fudge it and try to stay on a little bit longer,” retired teacher Trudy Randall said. “But they kind of wanted you out if you were pregnant.”

Not only did women routinely lose their jobs for being pregnant in the 1970s, when it was legal to fire them for that reason, but women continue to lose their jobs for being pregnant, even though there are now technically some legal protections for pregnant women. The Free Beacon thinking it had a giant gotcha here shows how out of touch these people are with the reality American women are still living with now, let alone what they lived with in the 1970s.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on October 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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A Pregnant Target

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Those bundles of joy cost bundles of money, so Victoria Whipple, a quality control worker at Kumho Tire in Macon, Georgia, had been working overtime to get ready for her new arrival.

She also got involved in union organizing at the plant, and management decided to teach her a lesson. It didn’t matter that Victoria had seven kids ranging in age from 10 to 1. Or that she was eight months pregnant. Those things just made her a more appealing target.

On Sept. 6, the day Kumho Tire workers wrapped up an election in which they voted to join the United Steelworkers (USW), managers pulled Victoria off the plant floor and suspended her indefinitely without pay, solely because she was supporting the union. In a heartbeat, her income was gone.

“It kind of stressed me out because of the bills,” she explained.

What happened to Victoria happens all the time. Employers face no real financial penalties for breaking federal labor law by retaliating against workers during a union organizing campaign. So they feel free to suspend, fire or threaten anyone they want. Workers are fired in one of every three organizing efforts nationwide, and the recent election at Kumho Tire was held only because the company harassed workers before the initial vote two years ago.

Legislation now before Congress—the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act—would curtail this rampant abuse.

The PRO Act would fine employers up to $50,000 for retaliating against workers during organizing campaigns. It would require the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) to go to court to seek reinstatement of workers who are fired or face serious financial harm because of retaliation, and it would give workers the right to file lawsuits and seek damages on their own.

It’s important that members of Congress understand exactly what’s at stake: Families like Victoria’s that might be only a couple of missed paychecks away from financial ruin.

They can’t afford to be pawns in a company’s sordid union-busting campaign.

Victoria began working at Kumho Tire a year and a half ago, after being laid off from her dispatching job at a distribution center. Her husband, Tavaris Taylor, recently started an over-the-road trucking job. They didn’t have much of a financial cushion for emergencies, and the suspension put their backs against the wall.

Instead of focusing on her family in the final weeks of her pregnancy, Victoria had to worry about money. It wasn’t healthy for her or her unborn child. And it wasn’t right.

When Victoria’s eldest child asked why she wasn’t going to work anymore, she just said she needed some time off. It would be wrong to burden a 10-year-old with the truth.

Victoria began borrowing gas money from her mom. She cut back her spending. She prioritized the bills and paid only those—rent, electricity and so on—that she considered absolutely essential.

She kept going to her doctor appointments, hoping the company’s insurance still covered her or that Medicaid would kick in if it didn’t. Victoria qualifies for Medicaid even though she works full time. The need for better pay is just one reason Kumho Tire workers voted to join the USW.

But Victoria’s main concern was giving workers a bigger voice in the workplace. She went to a union meeting and thought: “Maybe representation would help.”

That’s how she became a union supporter—and got crossways with a company that couldn’t care less about its workers, their families or federal labor law.

Victoria didn’t know how long her suspension would last or if management’s next step would be to fire her. That would be Kumho Tire’s kind of baby gift.

Then, out of the blue last week, a manager called Victoria and told her to return to work.  On Friday, her first day back after two weeks without pay, managers had the brass to ask her if she understood why she had been suspended.

Yeah, she understood all right.

Companies will do almost anything these days—even suspend a pregnant woman and escort her from the premises—to keep out unions and hold down workers. That’s especially true of Kumho Tire. Its egregious union-busting activities derailed workers’ attempt to join the USW two years ago.

Back then, Kumho Tire threatened union supporters’ jobs, interrogated employees about their union allegiance, threatened to shut down the plant if the union was voted in and made workers think they were being spied on. The conduct was so extraordinarily bad that an NLRB administrative law judge ordered Kumho Tire to assemble the workers and read a statement outlining the many ways in which it had violated their rights and federal labor law.

The NLRB also ordered this month’s election, in which workers voted 141 to 137 to join the USW. Thirteen challenged ballots will be addressed at an upcoming hearing.

The mistreatment of Victoria shows that Kumho Tire hasn’t changed its ways over the past two years. Unfortunately, employers have no incentive right now to follow the law.

The PRO Act would help to level the playing field. Besides fining companies for retaliation and giving workers the right to sue, the legislation would prohibit employers from holding mandatory anti-union presentations like the “town hall” meetings Kumho Tire forced Victoria and her co-workers to attend. Employers conduct the meetings to bully employees into voting against a union.

The legislation also would provide new protections once workers voted for representation. For example, if a company dragged its feet during bargaining for a first contract, a regular ploy to lower worker morale, mediation and arbitration could be used to speed the process along. And the PRO Act would prohibit employers from hiring permanent replacements for striking workers.

Members of Congress need to understand something. Workers aren’t looking to pick fights with their employers. They just want to do their jobs well, work in safe environments and earn enough money to care for their families. And some companies work productively with unions, including the USW, to improve working conditions and product quality.

But employers like Kumho Tire too often exploit their employees and resist any effort that workers make to improve their lot. When that happens, workers like Victoria will stand their ground. Now more than ever, they need the protections of the PRO Act backing them up.

This blog was originally published by AFL-CIO on September 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Tom Conway is international president of the United Steelworkers (USW).


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Protection Against Pregnancy Discrimination in California

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Pregnancy is an exciting and emotional time in a person’s life. It can feel like there is so much to do before the baby arrives; from a healthy delivery to making sure you have enough savings in your bank account. You do not need another thing to worry about, especially your job security.

Fortunately, there are both state and federal laws which protect employees against wrongful discrimination based on their pregnancy status or disability as a result of pregnancy. If you are pregnant or thinking about becoming pregnant, it is important to know your rights and how you and your family are protected under these laws.

What is pregnancy discrimination?

According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, pregnancy discrimination is unfavorable treatment towards a woman due to her pregnancy or pregnancy-related condition.

This type of discrimination is unlawful at any stage of hiring, employment, or termination. It is illegal to deny someone a job, demote or refuse to promote, decrease pay rate, or terminate employment due to a person’s pregnancy status or desire to become pregnant, intention of becoming pregnant, or possibility of pregnancy.

Pregnancy discrimination also includes a variety of actions. As a pregnant employee, you are not just protected from being fired or demoted due to pregnancy, but it is also unlawful for an employer to deny you reasonable accommodations due to pregnancy status, including a time and place to express milk, or deny you time off following the birth of your child.

What are discriminatory employment actions?

 Any discriminatory action against you in the workplace is unlawful. Some of the most common discriminatory employment actions due to an employee’s pregnancy status include:

  • Refusing to hire;
  • Demoting;
  • Laying off;
  • Denying benefits, such as paid time off and health insurance;
  • Assigning lesser or inferior jobs;
  • Terminations/Firing; or
  • Any other term or condition of employment.

What are reasonable accommodations?

Your employer is required to provide you with reasonable accommodations if, with those accommodations, you are still able to adequately perform your job duties. Reasonable accommodations are determined by considering whether this request would cause undue hardship to the employer. If not, it may be a reasonable request.

Some reasonable accommodations in regard to pregnancy may include:

  • Time off to attend doctors’ appointments;
  • Adjusting work schedules to accommodate for severe morning sickness;
  • Allowing the employee to sit during her shift; and
  • Weight restrictions related to lifting heavy objects.

What laws protect me from pregnancy discrimination?

 There are both state and federal laws which protect employees from discrimination based on pregnancy.

 The Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) is an amendment to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1965, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or any other pregnancy-related medical conditions.

The Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) is a federal statute which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. This includes pregnancy and limitations as a result of pregnancy.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows employees up to 12 weeks of leave per year due to the birth of a child, the placement of a child via adoption or foster care, the care of an immediate family member with a serious health condition, or the serious health condition of the employee. While this is unpaid, the employee may not lose their job due to her leave of absence under this federal statute. Employees also enjoy continuation of their health insurance and benefits as if they had never taken a leave from work.

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) makes it illegal for employers to discriminate against an employee or potential employee based upon the individual’s status as a protected class. In California, protected classes of people include:

  • Race, color
  • Ancestry, national origin
  • Religion, creed
  • Age (over 40)
  • Disability, mental and physical
  • Sex, gender (including pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding or related medical conditions)
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity, gender expression
  • Medical condition
  • Genetic information
  • Marital status
  • Military and veteran status

The California Family Rights Act (CFRA) is similar to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), however there are a few significant differences. The CFRA also allows employees up to 12 weeks of leave during a 12-month period for the same reasons allowable in the FMLA, but the CFRA also provides leave to care for a registered domestic partner who is experiencing a serious medical condition rather than only a spouse, child, or parent.

The California New Parent Leave Act (NPLA) allows employees to take time off to bond with a new child or a child newly placed for adoption or foster care. This Act requires the employer to provide the employee with a guarantee of employment security and reinstatement prior to beginning parental leave.

The California Pregnancy Disability Leave Law (PDL) specifically protects employees who are experiencing a disability resulting from pregnancy. Typically, the employee’s medical team will recommend how long the leave should be, according to your health condition, medical history, and other personal details, however this law does allow for up to four month of leave per pregnancy.

The California Paid Family Leave (PFL) allows employees time off work to bond with a new child following the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of the child. This also includes protections for employees to take time off work to care for a seriously ill family member, such as a child, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent, grandchild, sibling, spouse, or registered domestic partner. It is important to note that this statute only protects monetary benefits but does not provide job security or protection. However, your job may be protected through other state or federal laws.

This article was originally published by V. James DeSimone Law on August 20, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The team of employment attorneys at V. James DeSimone Law have in-depth knowledge and years of experience in this field. To schedule a consultation, you may call us today at (310) 693-5561. If you are pregnant or thinking about being pregnant, protect yourself, your family, and your job by knowing and understanding your rights and protections under both state and federal laws. If you believe you have been a victim of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace, it is crucial to contact an experienced employment attorney right away. Learn more at: https://www.vjamesdesimonelaw.com/employment-law/pregnancy-discrimination/

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For Women In This State, Getting Pregnant Will No Longer Mean Losing A Job

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Bryce Covert

On Tuesday, the New York State legislature passed a bill aimed at shielding pregnant women from workplace discrimination, which the governor has said he will sign. The new law will require employers to give pregnant workers accommodations so they can stay on the job unless the employer can show it would create an undue hardship. Those changes can be as small as a stool to sit on or more frequent bathroom breaks, and can also include light duty for women with lifting restrictions or other work transfers. Across the country, an estimated quarter million women are denied these requests every year, which means they often end up pushed onto unpaid leave, fired, or experience health complications including miscarriage. Many more women don’t even ask for accommodations because they fear retaliation.

Existing laws, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Americans with Disabilities Act, should in theory protect pregnant women from discrimination. And in fact, the Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of Peggy Young, a woman suing UPS over its refusal to give her light duty when she became pregnant. That ruling helps bolsters women who need accommodations, but its impact is likely to be limited. “To get an accommodation under the Supreme Court’s standard in Young v. UPS, pregnant workers must navigate a long, convoluted, and costly process to prove discrimination,” Dina Bakst, co-president of advocacy group of A Better Balance, told ThinkProgress. “Most women simply don’t have the luxury of time or the resources to make that happen.”

Instead, laws like New York’s make things clear from the outset, before women are pushed onto leave or fired. Women “just need clear law when they ask for a minor adjustment at work so they can stay healthy for a few months,” Bakst explained. More and more women will need these adjustments, as the share of first-time mothers working while pregnant has shot up from less than half in 1960 to two-thirds today, and 80 percent keep working into their last month.

New York’s new law could come to the aid of women like Betzaida Cruz Cardona, who lives in Henrietta, New York and is suing Savers, her former employer, for firing her from her cashier job hours after she handed in a doctor’s note stipulating she couldn’t lift more than 25 pounds even though she was never required to do so. She says she has since become homeless. While she argues that the company violated existing federal law, things could have been easier if she lived in New York City, which already has a Pregnant Worker Fairness Act on the books that would have made it clear that her employer had to accommodate her needs.

Eleven other states have also implemented laws requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant employees. A federal bill that would cover all women has been introduced in Congress multiple times, but it has yet to advance.

This blog originally appeared on ThinkProgress.org on May 6, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Bryce Covert. Bryce Covert is the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress. She was previously editor of the Roosevelt Institute’s Next New Deal blog and a senior communications officer. She is also a contributor for The Nation and was previously a contributor for ForbesWoman. Her writing has appeared on The New York Times, The New York Daily News, The Nation, The Atlantic, The American Prospect, and others. She is also a board member of WAM!NYC, the New York Chapter of Women, Action & the Media.

 


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