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