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

(sigh) a bunch of bitchy, lazy feminists on here. Get over it

Anonymous

All I can say is YUCK. Breast feed (or pump) at home in private like a normal person would do. My goodness......what is wrong with people nowadays? This is simply a case of a person seeking financial gain from a large company over another left wing micro-law designed to legislate common sense. You are at work to WORK.....not to pump breast milk on the company's time. Shame on you!

Anonymous87

I'm sorry. Comment 1 makes a lot of sense. I breastfeed my 9 month old and I agree wholeheartedly. She should have at least tried herself seeing as the employer wasnt doing anything. If it's THAT important, take it into your own hands. People will sue about ANYTHING now a days. Just suck it up and do it yourself. Or quit!

Anonymous

Thank you for being willing to fight this battle. Happily, I have been well supported by my employer while I pump. I know this is not the case for everyone, and having the courage to stand up for what is right and fair under the law means sacrifice for you. It's only through people like you that change begins!

Anonymous

Commenter #22 clearly doesn't realize that lactation occurs 24/7. You can't just cross your arms and wait 10 hours until you're home. It's not optional. It's biology. If his/her logic holds, no one should ever use the toilet on company time. I fully support the blogger in her fight to have the law upheld so she can continue to provide for her family in every way, by being a productive wage-earner and by breastfeeding her child. You go mama!

Anonymous

For anyone who says "yuck" to breastfeeding or who says the mom is there to work and not pump her breasts- have you ever experienced this situation for yourself? She is working to provide for her family. Stay home? And afford things by what- Food Stamps that you and I pay for? She is providing a basic need for her child- her breast milk. And no formula in a can will ever compare to it.
In all the years I have worked I have never seen one smoker be told s/he cannot take a smoking break. But a mom who needs breaks to pump her milk it chastised and you look down upon her. Did you know she was saving YOU money? Because it costs less money for many things when children you are provided breast milk. Kids are sick less because of the antibodies. And this is not a "formula vs. Breast milk" debate. It is what it is- formula fed babies can be healthy and breast fed babies can get sick- nothing is going to be the panacea to cover all issues. But we know breast milk is healthiest for babies. And moms now have the legal background to protect them to pump at work. Do you have to clean the bathrooms where you work so they are not filthy when you use them or does your employer have someone do that? Do you have to clean the lunch room before you eat or does someone do that? The comments about how she should have cleaned the room are not valid. The employer has to LEGALLY provide her a private and clean space to pump. Period- end of sentence. They did not AND told her to expect to be harassed- which is just another word for being bullied but in the adult world. Why can we not just support each other and new moms??

Anonymous

The sexism on this thread makes me so sad. I'm sure this woman would love to be at home with her baby, but obviously her man doesn't make enough money for that (or maybe he abandoned her altogether, like most men do these days). I'd also like to know how she should hold her breast milk in for her 8 or 12 hour shift. Do you men hold your urine that long? But a woman's biology isn't as important as a man's, now is it?

What a sad commentary on our society. One beacon of hope: breast-fed babies tend to have higher IQ's. I'm sure her baby will have more sense than the Neanderthals on this thread. Keep fighting the good fight, mom!

Anonymous

Comment # 22: How stupid and ignorant are you! You obviously don't know what breast engorgement feels like and you have to pump to feel better. I was in church 1 day, I forgot to bring my pump, I had to leave bc my breast were so painful. If you work a 12 hour shift like me would you hold your sh**t or pee until you get home, just to look like a " normal" person? Shame on you people and shame on comment # 1

Anonymous

For the YUCK comment, never have I read such ignorance in my life. Breast feeding is not just a trend in today’s world but is highly promoted by all phases of our society. It is a woman’s right to breastfeed and should not be compromised. And for those of you with the mindset of a stay home mom, that is totally ridicules. We all know with today’s cost of living two incomes are needed to make ends meet. Yes the company should be held totally responsible for what this woman has been put thru. The law is the law and they chose to ignore it.

Anonymous

She should've secretly invited the female relatives and spouses of her coworkers (and superiors) to see the conditions, and then to wait in the room with her for the harassment to begin. ***Knock knock knock*** "MOOOOOOOO" "JASON! Is that you!?" "Uh, Mom?.....oh shit" "Not just Mom, you're baby sister is here too."

"Gary, did you put grease on the door knob?" "Oh come on honey, you know it was funny!" "You can fix your own dinner, and you're sleeping on the couch....no, better yet you're sleeping and eating off the bathroom floor until you grow up and apologize."

Yeah, unrealistic I know. But if men would just think for a blasted minute that the person they are harassing or ridiculing could be their mother, sister, or wife and how they'd feel about someone treating them that way there would be a lot less of shit like this. Wouldn't be perfect, but there would be a LOT less of it. Same goes for women. Put yourself in the other persons shoes for a moment---is that how you'd like to be treated?

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