This Is Why We Need Breastfeeding Rights: Bobbi Bockoras’ Horrifying Tale Of Workplace Discrimination

This is the room where Bobbi Bockoras was expected to pump breastmilk for her child.

This is the room where Bobbi Bockoras was expected to pump breastmilk for her child.

Wow. Oh, wow. You must read this horrifying essay about what one mom went through in order to continue breastfeeding her child. It includes 106 degree temperatures, dead bugs, harassment, and shards of metal. Yes, really.

Bobbi Bockoras works at Saint Gobain Verallia, a glass-bottling factory in Port Allegany, PA. There, she’s one of the few female workers who operates heavy machinery. She’s also a mom of two, including an infant daughter, Lyla, whom she is committed to breastfeeding. When she went back to work at the factory, she informed both her supervisor and HR that she would need accommodations and time to pump, as specified under the “Nursing Mothers Provision” of the Affordable Care Act.  And then the trouble started.

In a blog post for the ACLU, Bockoras lays out a truly disturbing story of what she experienced with her employer while attempting to pump. At first she was asked to pump int he bathroom, which is not considered a sanitary space for pumping under the law.  So she complained. Then, she writes:

…each alternative my employer offered was worse than the last – for example, a room that was made almost entirely of glass that offered no privacy, a shower room, a room with no way to lock the doors…You get the picture.

I eventually agreed to use an old locker room, even though it was filthy, because at least it had a lock on the door – and they said they’d clean it up. But when I showed up to pump there a few days later, I found that the room had not been cleaned: it was covered in dirt and dead bugs, the floor was unfinished and had large patches missing from it, and there was no air conditioning – which is serious, because temperatures can get up to 106 degrees on the factory floor.

Bockoras pumped there for awhile, using the only chair in the disgusting room—but then the chair was removed and she was left to pump breastmilk for her infant while sitting on the dirty, bug-ridden floor. Then, she was inexplicably switched to the rotating shift (including night work), which impacted her supply and caused her to have to give formula to her daughter (something Bockoras says “goes against my beliefs about what’s best for her.”)

To make matters even worse, Bockoras has been continually harassed at her place of employment, both for pumping and while pumping. She says:

On two occasions, someone “greased” the door handle of the room – some of my coworkers covered the door knob with thick, dirty grease (it even had shards of metal in it). I was beside myself, and complained again and again, but they’ve never identified the culprits and no steps were taken to train my colleagues to prevent further harassment. The whole time, I could not believe this was happening to me – and how hard I’ve had to fight for nothing more than what the law required – in 2013!

After 10 weeks (that’s over two months of harassment and pumping breastmilk among bug carcasses), Bockoras decided to take legal action.

If you needed any evidence that the American workplace (and indeed, American society) still has a long way to go in terms of supporting breastfeeding mothers, this is it, folks. Yes, Bockoras is working in a blue-collar, male-dominated field, but that doesn’t mean her goal to breastfeed her child should be any more difficult than a mother who is working in an office or a clothing store or a school. The discrimination Bockoras experienced, the sheer rudeness, the casual misogyny and sexism, as well as the total disregard for her comfort and safety, are clear indicators of exactly why we have laws that protect pregnant and breastfeeding mothers, as well as how much further we need to go in making sure those laws are followed at all levels.

I commend Bockoras for her bravery and for speaking out about her terrible experience at Saint Gobain Verallia. She says she’s hopeful that her story will encourage other nursing workers to know their rights and also educate employers about their legal obligations to nursing employees.  I certainly hope so, because there’s seriously not even enough adjectives to describe her cringe-inducing ordeal. This is a real thing that happened to a real mother in 2013, everyone.

Photo: ACLU Facebook page

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    • Carinn Jade

      This is horrible. I thought I had some negative experiences, but this?? I just can’t believe it is that hard to get an empty clean small room for this purpose – and yet here it is.

    • sickoftheexcuses

      This company was begging No SCREAMING to be sued. What an incredible violation of her rights as an employee, as a mother and of the “Nursing Mothers Provision”. I rarely see myself endorsing lawsuits in our sue happy country, but as a nursing mother I am absolutely horrified she went through this. I wonder if boycotting the company until they’ve properly cleaned the room, installed a sink, a fridge, chair, and properly reimbursed her for her formula expenses might motivate them to comply sooner…..and they should make her male coworkers clean it on schedule!

    • kay

      My husband works for the state government. Which overall isn’t always the most efficient at getting things done.

      But I know in his workplace there’s a room that is made to be used by breastfeeding mothers. And he loves it because it’s got a super comfy couch in it – he’s laid down in there when he had a headache. And it’s got a sign up sheet on the door so that women who need it aren’t having to kick dudes like my husband out. (And from what he has said there’s generally only one breastfeeding woman in the building at any given time, so this room is available and nice and clean and all that even though it’s not needed by very many)

      Seriously, if state government can make something work without it being a huge hassle, others should be able to as well.

    • Rochelle

      Although the laws protecting a woman’s right to pump at work are wonderful and necessary, I truly think the United States needs to come up with better maternity leave options for mothers. I believe a women should be able to take a year off if she chooses to (with some pay and a hold on their job). The main thing impacting breastfeeding rates in my opinion is that women aren’t able to be with their babies often enough. Even though pumping works well for some women, it doesn’t for many others.

      • StoonGirl

        I can’t agree more! I’m currently on week 32 of my mat leave here in Canada, I can’t imagine having the tiny 6 weeks that you guys are stuck with. It blows my mind….

      • Rochelle

        I’m Canadian too! The year I had with my babies was priceless and it made pumps almost completely unnecessary, which is good because My breasts do not pump well. I have huge respect for women who can succeed at breastfeeding while working full time.

      • Stoongirl

        Totally! Plus still dealing with night feeds and teething stress and daycare bills and post partum issues and physical stress and having their relationship going a huge change and and and…. Phew! I’m exhausted just thinking about it… This is my second and wow that would hard to go through this on top ou forty hours a week. Hooray for Canadian socialism, solidarity to our southern sisterswho are still suffering!

    • pineapplegrasss

      Kinda stunned. This reminds me of that movie with Charlize Theron who worked in a factory and was sexually harassed for being a woman in a mans job. I seriously would have started cleaning that room and stuff on company time. Brought in a radio and little chair, ice chest, whatever. This just made me so mad for her.

      • Asia Woodley

        It reminded me of the same movie. “Monster”. I must say that while I was pumping at work, my accomodations were tho meager, they were lavish by comparison.

      • keelhaulrose

        I think you’re thinking of “North Country”. “Monster” was the one where she played the serial killer.

      • Asia Woodley

        Yes! Where did I get that from? “Women’s empowerment”

        One in the same lol

    • Amber Starr

      I’m not one of those people who is quick to say “sue!”, but seriously, this is deserving of it…so…. Sure the bastards!

      Buncha real tough guys, aren’t they. F*cking scumbags.

    • Awa

      For anyone out there, who, like me, is hoping that employers like this get dropped down a dark well, there is a new bill that would place tighter restrictions on employers in regards to how they treat pregnant and breastfeeding workers: http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/pregnantworkersfairnessfactsheet_w_bill_number.pdf
      This story touched a nerve with me; I dealt with a similar, though less severe situation wherein I was forcibly demoted because of my pregnancy. I really hope she wins her suit.

      • pineapplegrasss

        I worked a job for many years and was fired when I became pregnant. The first time I said 12 weeks FMLA I want to be a nursing mother. Manufactured a reason (attendance prob) wrote me up, elevated it to final a week later and out I was for being 7 min late on a Sunday. I ended up getting more $ from unemployment then I ever would have gotten from their crummy Mat leave policy anyways.

    • pineapplegrasss

      I’m still so irritated a day later. Its soooo hard to be a working mother as it is, trying to schedule time to take the kids to the dentist, having to tell them no, you can’t come to the 2 hour Halloween party in the middle of the freaking day bc you used all your sick time up in August when his little brother was hospitalized for a week. etcetc. And then to be demoralized even further for needing a safe, clean place to pump. I’m sure she was probably uncomfortable enough just for the fact that she had to pump at work. I have a private office with a door and am still so freaked what am I to do come April and newbies here and I have to pump at work. I just want to rant about society and womens lib and needing two incomes and the Vietnam war and everything else that pushed the mothers into the workforce, but then no understanding. I’m not even one who believes that its the govt or your employers job to pay extra maternity leave (like a year) but c’mon…some respect and understanding please. Don’t these men have (gasp) mothers and sisters and wives and daughters?