106 Degrees and Dead Bugs. "Good Enough" For Breastfeeding Moms?

Update (02/04/2014): Good News: Bobbi will get her day in court! The judge in her case found that assigning Bobbi, a new mom, to a rotating shift could constitute retaliation for her having complained about the conditions of the pumping room. Her case will move forward and she'll have the chance to try to prove her case.

This is the story of how I ended up pumping breast milk while sitting on a filthy floor, covered in dirt and dead bugs, at the plant where I work – and what I decided to do about it.

For the last six years I've worked at Saint Gobain Verallia, a glass-bottling factory in Port Allegany, PA operating heavy machinery. I'm one of a few women that work on the male-dominated factory line. . I also have two beautiful children, one of whom, my sweet daughter Lyla, was born very recently. I love my children, and I love my work. I've had this job for the past six years, and it's made it possible for me to provide for my family.

I firmly believe that breastfeeding is the best thing for my baby. I had breastfed my firstborn, and knew it was healthy for me and for my baby. I also knew that my employer was legally obligated to provide me reasonable break time under the newly-passed "Nursing Mothers Provision" of the Affordable Care Act (otherwise known as "Obamacare"). So when I became pregnant with my second child, I made clear to my supervisor that I intended to return to work, that I wanted to continue breastfeeding and that I would need accommodations to pump. I even dropped off a copy of the law at the Human Resources department. But both my supervisor and HR were apparently ignorant of the new law: my supervisor initially told me to pump in the bathroom.

If they had actually read the law, like I had done, they would have known that a sanitary space for pumping explicitly excludes restrooms.

When I returned to work, I was placed on the day shift so that I could take the breaks I needed and I could maintain my pumping schedule. But in the room my employer gave me to pump in, I was constantly interrupted by my male coworkers pounding on the door and harassing me.

When I complained, 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. The only furniture in the room was a single chair. I was completely disgusted, but what could I do? I only had a short break before I had to be back on my shift, and my baby has to eat, so I pumped there anyway. Even though I complained that it was filthy, the company did not have it cleaned. To make matters worse, shortly after that, someone took the chair from the room, which is how I found myself pumping on the floor, with dead bugs for company.

Bobbi Bockoras and her daughter, Lyla
Bobbi and her daughter, Lyla

After weeks of my complaining about these conditions and the harassment I was experiencing, my supervisor and the HR manager informed me, without explanation, that I would be switched to the rotating shift, effective the following week. The rotating shift requires workers to switch between days and nights frequently, including an 11:30 pm - 7:30 am shift. The company has refused to budge from this decision, even though they know that this puts an enormous strain on me and my child care situation, and even after I produced doctors' notes saying I needed to be on the day shift to help me keep a regular schedule for breastfeeding my baby. My request was denied. To add insult to injury when I requested to be put back on days, an HR representative told me that I would probably be harassed regardless of what shift I was on.

Being on the rotating shift has impacted my ability to breast feed, as the amount of breast milk I'm producing has plummeted. I've had to give my baby formula, which goes against my beliefs about what's best for her.

The harassment I faced at work also escalated. 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!

When, 10 weeks after I returned to work, I still did not have a clean and private location to pump, I started contacting legal organizations for help. I am pursuing the legal routes available to me because of my struggle, and because of my strong belief in breastfeeding. I know that even if Saint Gobain Verallia makes changes in the face of legal pressure, I may never regain the ability to breastfeed my child. However, I hope that my story will help inform other nursing workers of their rights, and educate employers about their legal obligations. No woman should have to go through what I did simply to do what's best for her baby.

Are you pregnant, post-partum or trying to breastfeed at work? Learn more about your rights at work: Know Your Rights: Pregnant, Post-Partum & Breastfeeding Workers.

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Seems to me that women who pump can take at least a little bit of the responsibility for ensuring that their environment is sterile. How about going into work before hours to clean and sanitize the area that you would be using? Buy some Clorox clean ups to wipe down any surface you will be using and bring a towel or blanket from home to cover any area where you will be sitting. This was a factory, and factories are not know for being sanitary. Even in the best of circumstances, surfaces will usually be covered with germs. If it were me, I would have worked with my boss to make the best of a factory environment that is not designed to cater to the wants and needs of breast pumping women. Take some personal responsibility. I nursed two children and had to pump sometimes and always made sure I had my own means of providing for the sanitation of my area. As for the harassment, it seems to me that perhaps this woman did not have very good or respectful relationships with her co-workers. Harassment will always exist at some level, but I imagine that the more this woman complained and drew attention to herself, the less respect she was going to be afforded.
Nothing in the constitution guarantees a woman the right to be specially accommodated to breast pump. Be real. Yes, breast milk is the best way. But those of us who have breast fed also know that you can train your body to express at specific times during the day. Perhaps, if the factory could not provide adequate sterilization of areas, this woman could have arranged her breaks and lunch in such a way to go somewhere nearby to a more suitable location. To bring a lawsuit against your employer over this issue when you did not make even the most minimal of efforts to provide a clean environment (sweep/mop the area or use a blanket, wipe down surfaces) shows that you were not serious about your role in the sanitary conditions of the pumping process. I understand pumping, I really do. But it seems that this woman did not do everything in her power to ensure her environment was pump-ready. It sounds like she expected the employer to do all of the work.

Shona Jarboe

Your determination and courage is awe inspiring! Keep up the good fight, you are definitely doing the best for you and your daughter! (38 months of breastfeeding between 3 kids myself!)

Sara Dale-Bley

These kinds of workplace pumping issues are an ongoing challenge throughout the US despite legal protection for employed, breastfeeding mothers.

The Colorado Breastfeeding Coalition (COBFC), a state-wide breastfeeding support and advocacy organization, is currently a finalist for the 2013 GOLD Star Award in Lactation. The GOLD Star Award is an annual cash donation to a worthy organization involved in promoting, protecting, and supporting breastfeeding in local communities or via global efforts.

If the COBFC were to win this award, the funds would be used to establish the infrastructure and website design of a public, searchable database, and public recognition system, of Breastfeeding Friendly Employers throughout Colorado.

The final decision for the award is through public, online voting. Whichever finalist receives the most votes from November 1st through November 15th wins the $5000. Votes can be cast at the GOLD Lactation Online Conference website, http://www.goldconf.com/news-a-promotions/gold-star-award.html.

Anne Schollenberger

I am so glad that you have filed this suit. I had the privelege of highlighting businesses that employed at least 60% hourly workers that were complying with the breaktime for nursing mothers act. I am sorry you had to endure this, but am confident that your case will call attention to this issue. One of the companies we highlighted, a car seat manufacturer, had 3 rooms that it had dedicated as nursing mothers' rooms. When I was praising them for what they had done, the HR woman was so matter-of-fact about it--and said to me, "Well, it's the law." Not to mention being family-friendly and employee-friendly. Persevere in your fight!

Nursing mommy x3

Whoever the initial anonymous post came from apparently did not read AND comprehend the article. Why should she have to go in before her shift to clean the area?! I guess because being a mother and providing care at home (cleaning, cooking, child raising, oh, how about sleep, pump sterilization, bottle preparation, laundry ...) isn't enough, she should also have to clean at work too?? Come on now. If you have really nursed, then you should know the demands of such a rewarding task. I myself, a mother of 3 exclusively breastfead babies, would love to know how you were able to "train" your breasts to produce at "appropriate" times. If I could have learned to control mine like you have, I would have been able to save a ton of money by not buying breast leak pads, and the embarrassment of wet shirts when I thought about my baby, mine just didn't listen to my pleading "don't leak, don't leak, oh please don't leak!!!"
Point being, this mother repeatedly asked for better conditions, and has been patient long enough with her employer.


its the law. the company should comply. end of story.

Melinda Lina

The comment from Anonymous further illustrates what is wrong with the current state of women and employee rights in the United States. Sure, you can bring antibacterial wipes and other tools to sanitize your environment and provide comfort, but suggesting that personal responsibility requires that you bring a blanket to sit on the floor and pump when your employer won't provide you with a chair is galling. Breast feeding and pumping are bodily functions that should required accommodation. Perhaps Anonymous should take their own advice and exercise personal responsibility by learning to bring their own toilet paper to the discussion so they can wipe their mouth after they spew their folk wisdom-y backwards verbal sh*t. In the meantime, the rest of use will continue to work towards expanding rights and respect for all individuals.


I couldn't agree more with comment 1.


To comment number 1. The law does require them to give reasonable (meaning clean and at least having a chair) accommodations to pump. It was not her job to buy sanitizing wipes to clean a place for her to express breast milk to feed her infant child. It was the factories job. She is 100% in the right here. I would have sued the shit out of them by week 2. They are breaking laws. And she can probably sue for sexual harassment also. Male co-workers disrupting her time being exposed? Yeah I see another lawsuit. Just as bad as if they were to walk in on her showering knowing there was a woman in there. I hope this lawsuit goes through and makes DAMN sure nobody can impede on a woman's right to pump (which can cause mastitis, and eventually surgery, if not allowed) ever again. Kudos to you, for standing up for what is right.


Is total bullshit and shame on another woman defending this. It's total sexual harassment and hostile work environment. Not only is the law clear that a clean and private location must be provided but it is the right thing to do. Just because you Anon PP are ok with being provided an unclean and not private area doesn't mean other women should have to deal with that. I am do sick of people who say, well I would have done this or that and defend discrimination. Even if you don't want your rights doesn't mean no one else deserves theirs. This is beyond wrong! Sue the crap out of them and I pray you win and make an example out if them!


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