Bill to protect pregnant mothers in the workplace stalls in the Legislature

  • The Massachusetts State House in Boston

Staff Writer
Published: 8/3/2016 5:26:28 PM

AMHERST – As an expectant mother in 1974, Amherst resident Bonnie MacCracken kept her pregnancy secret while working in a hospital out of fear she might be fired.

“I hid my pregnancy for seven months before I voluntarily left my job before being discovered and my employment being terminated,” MacCracken said in an email this week.

MacCracken said she is among those discouraged that the Massachusetts Legislature last weekend failed to adopt the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act as an amendment to an economic development bill, which she worries will allow overt discrimination against pregnant women to continue at some workplaces, with no legal recourse for these workers.

The bill was filed by state Rep. Ellen Story, D-Amherst, as a means of giving more protections to pregnant women.

“A pregnancy is something to be celebrated, a truly joyous occasion, but without this law it heaps undo stress and fear on an expecting mother,” said MacCracken, who is one of six Democrats seeking to succeed the retiring Story. The primary election will be held Sept. 8.

“I was very disappointed it didn’t pass, very disappointed, but now I'm gearing up to get it passed as a bill, as it should be,” Story said.

Story said the problem was that the act, as attached to the Senate’s version of the economic development bill, was not on the top of anyone’s priority list. She anticipates talking to House Speaker Robert De Leo to see if the act can come up for a voice vote in informal session either this summer or fall.

The legislation has strong support from MotherWoman, Inc. the Hadley-based nonprofit that supports and empowers mothers. The organization helped bring women to the State House to testify about recent experiences in which they were not accommodated or faced hostility toward their requests, including one woman who worked at a hospital and was forced to be with patients who might pose dangers to her.

“We feel enormously sorry that we are not able to provide protections for pregnant workers right now,” said Laura Sylvester, MotherWoman’s policy and advocacy campaign coordinator.

Sylvester said she doesn’t believe there were any vocal opponents to the bill that, if passed, would bring Massachusetts in line with 17 other states that have filled gaps in federal and state laws. In fact, Sylvester said she saw “enormous support,” with 62 co-sponsors, which makes its non-passage such a disappointment.

“We had felt confident that it would pass, and we are still confident it will pass, if not in this session then in the next,” Sylvester said. “We feel really good about how far along the discussion went and how much education we did on the issue around how much discrimination pregnant women face on the job every day.”

The act would guarantee pregnant workers such simple things as access to water and seating, more frequent or longer breaks, light duty and assistance with manual labor. It will also protect women who request accommodations from retaliation.

Without the law in place, pregnant women can still be denied reasonable accommodations that would allow them to continue performing their duties, such as a stool for a woman working at a checkout counter.

Such legislation would come at no cost to the state and minimal costs to businesses, according to MortherWoman. The impact would be large and immediate for the state’s pregnant workers, with an estimated 41 percent being the primary breadwinners for their families.

The legislation was endorsed by the League of Women Voters of Massachusetts, which in an action statement wrote it was “important because no woman should have to choose between a healthy pregnancy and the job she needs.”

Story said she isn’t sure whether there is opposition to the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, though she observes that the Associated Industries of Massachusetts had reservations about the recent pay equity bill. The legislation died in the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies. 

“I’d be interested in seeing who would object to it,” Story said.

Peter Wilson, press secretary for Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said that Rosenberg supported the bill to prohibit labor practices unfair to pregnant women and that it would be a “no brainer” to adopt.

“He’s disappointed this bill didn’t pass and he’s stunned anyone would be opposed to accommodating pregnant mothers in the workplace,” Wilson said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.




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