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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Anonymous

To the anonymous poster, wow. I'm not sure you read the entire article, or that you understood it if you did. For someone who claims to have breastfead I can't imagine how. How could you expect this mother to come in and clean before her shift?! It must not be enough for her to clean at home and raise a family all while working a full time job?? There is cleaning, cooking, laundry, groceries, pump and bottle sterilization, next days bottle preparation, bath time for the kids, bath time for mommy, oh and how about some sleep? That, with a nursing baby is basically not sleep, but rather a few quick naps between feedings. Ok, now let's focus on the fact it's a SWING shift, so, now, if she's working nights, now she's required to stay up all day with her baby, willing to sacrifice that sleep, to be with her baby. Have you ever worked a swing shift? Have you ever spoke to someone, even a man or a woman without kids, it's hell trying to adjust let alone schedule your breasts to appropriate times. Now let's look at the breast training you spoke of. I, as a mother of 3 exclusively breastfead babies, would like to know your secret. It would have saved a lot of money not buying those itchy nursing pads, and, even more, saved me some embarrassment at my wet shirts (yes, I leaked THROUGH the pads), despite my pleading at my rebel breasts to not leak when inappropriate. I bet many women want to know that trick! I was VERY fortunate that my employer was more than accommodating while I pumped for two years (that's one year each for my oldest two children). And during that time, with my understanding workplace, I couldn't train my breasts to what you are implying (and I consider myself an accomplished nursing mother, maybe I'm wrong!)

The point is, this mother tried multiple locations throughout the plant, was promised a clean location, but was never given a suitable environment. A single chair is not enough, and a blanket on a dirty floor - after the chair was removed - would not have been enough. I'd like to see you eat under the same circumstances in the short time provided. You don't carry your own plate and utensils to a restaurant, why should she have to take time from her already busy life to clean a spot to supply food for her child. No doubt the factory has personnel to clean the restrooms and office space. In the months she was moved from location to location, the company could have had the cleaners tidy one more location? Or offered her paid time to clean it herself. Most factories do not allow personnel to be in the premises off the clock anyway, it's a safety issue!

Anonymous

It is a law that her employer provide her with a private, SANITARY place to pump. The LAW! Bobby, way to go! Thank you for fighting for us all!

Anand

Wake-up anonymous!!!!!! Let me start: First, Are you a working mom? Does not seem from your statement " I pumped sometimes and nursed two kids". Seems like you are stay at home mom. Second, I work for a global corporation and I have also worked for small companies. Benefits to nursing mother were always provided in all aspects. Pumping room a must and the hygienic condition was of utmost important. So yes wether by law or not as an organization this is a moral law to ensure best conditions for nursing mothers. Third, the woman who is fighting for her rights here is not trying to look like an idiot, nor has intentions to blame her organization for no reason. It seems like you are person who has never can fight for your rights and will live by all insults. America is country founded on the principals of equal rights, by the people, for the people. So God bless America for having to live with people like you who cannot stand-up for injustice and daylight crime. Fourth, your understanding of values, culture and respecting woman seems somewhere lost in transition. Forces me to think either you are too innocent a person or too dump and abused to take charge because of fear. Not sure how your home front treats you, esp. Your husband or significant other. Come on lady would you let your boys learn this way of respecting woman and treating nursing mothers as a piece of insult. I hope the people who used to insult are no ones other than uneducated bastards of the first kind. Fifth, now people like you complain the most in reality. People who are educated and have common sense always educate themselves about
Life, respecting people and standing-up against injustice, and people like you hide in the woods cleaning up dirt and training your bodies to express as to when to lactate. Please stop your nuisance and check if your husband and boys are not disrespecting your neighbors or woman on the street.

There is still time to Wakeup and take charge, if you are abused or harassed do not get used to it but file your case here and stand-up for your rights. Please pass the right message to the world.

::::To the lady fighting for her rights::::my good luck and best wishes to you. Your son and daughter will grow up to respect woman and people.

Peace
Anand

Anonymous

This is why moms should be home with their babies and not in a this environment to begin with.

Anonymous

This lady took the means she needed. Her role was to inform her wirkplace if her need to pump, she did that. She also provided Human resources with their legal obligation under the new law. Lunch rooms are sanitary, as are offices in factories so tgere was no excuse they couldnt find her a suitable location. They also should have held a manditory harassment course since the men appear to have been jealous by her taking time away from work for pumping. Blaming the mother for her legal rights to be honoured is just retarded and plan out disgusting coming from another motger (above commenter).

To blogger, I hope things get better for you. And for your milk supply I know there are many options out there like lots of oats, water, nurse on deand add a dream feed when you are home to encourage milk supply to return strong. Best of luck. (From a canadian momma who still breastfeeds my 2yr old)

Lauren House

I hope that you haven't lost your determination to breastfeed. Keep fighting for yourself and your child and those that can't fight for themselves. I hope that when your children are old enough to be parents things like this will seem like an oddity.

Anonymous

I disagree with the majority of the first comment from 'anonymous'. If the law is there, it should be adhered to (although I admit personally I would have probably taken the time in my personal time to clean it myself). No-one should be open to harassment anywhere! There is no excuse for that! I can't understand why America is so far behind in its maternity laws and why it is so anti-family? Look at the UK and how the laws differ there and that is also behind other European countries (who also have reasonable economies, so please don't use that as an excuse).

Anonymous

By LAW, the EMPLOYER, not the employee, has to provide a quiet, sanitary place with adequate time to pump. She should not have to do that herself. You have children Anonymous, yet you believe she can just leave early and go clean up a place that should have been cleaned already, thus relieving her employer of his LEGAL responsibility? You tout the constitution, yet we are also bound by whatever other laws are made. Her employer is bound by law.

I pump and work. I take care of my daughter in the early morning because she wakes to nurse around the same time I pump and get ready. I often have to clean up spit up, change a diaper, change her clothes, and any other thing she needs. I can't just leave early to clean a place for me to pump. My breaks also do not afford me enough time to go in and clean. I have to rush in, pump, clean my parts, and then rush back to teach a class. Thankfully, my employer is very supportive of breastfeeding and set aside a small, quiet, clean room for me to pump.

There is no excuse for the hardships she had to endure. You assume that she didn't want to sterilize her area, but you don't know the full situation. As for the harassment, I know from experience that sometimes people are just stupid (for lack of a better word) about respecting someone else's decisions. Breastfeeding in our country is still largely considered taboo. I'm lucky enough to have many supporters, but I have those who make nasty comments and insist that what I'm doing is wrong or something to be behind closed doors and never brought up to anyone. Thankfully, I can just ignore those.

I'm glad she's fighting for her and her child's rights. Someone needs to! Her employer refused her rights, which are not only moral rights, but legal rights at that!

Best of luck to her and any other woman who decides to breastfeed, whether she works or not!

Anonymous

To the first person who posted stating she should have been the one to clean the area and that the Constitution does not gaurantee her the right, you are ignorant and mistaken. Although, true, the Constitution does not explicitly state anything about breast feeding rights, it does express equality. AND there is also a LAW that states the employer is responsible for providing a SANITARY space for pumping mothers with adequate breaks to do so (this was all mentioned in the article, or did you not actually read it?). You say you understand pumping but I find that very hard to believe considering your attitude towards this woman. Additionally, there should NEVER be harrassment towards ANYONE at ANY time. For you to imply she brought this on herself is shameful and the same mindset of people that participate in victim shaming of rape victims. It is beyond me why anyone would take pleasure in harassing a woman trying to feed her child. If the company was fine with paying employees to play pranks and harrass this woman when they should have been working, seems to me they could pay employees to actually do some work and clean that place up. No one deserves to be treated this way and I hope the HR department and her supervisors get a good dose of reality when they have to pay for treating this woman so poorly.

Anonymous

Regardless of the new commentary in the ACA... her right to pump in a clean environment, free from harassment or interruption of other employees was already federally protected. The HR manager should have stepped in the moment there was first a problem. Kudos to the courageous mama!

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