Reported by Lillianna Byington and Paige Smith for Bloomberg Law.
Lingering concerns from the transportation industry are threatening to derail a bill to expand workplace protections for nursing parents.
Lawmakers have been pushing for years to expand on-the-job pumping protections to more workers, legislation that some say is particularly needed now that formula is scarce and the lingering effects of the Covid-19 pandemic have increased the need to entice parents back into the workforce. Sen. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), however, blocked a bill that aimed to do that last week, driven by concerns that its requirements are “overly broad and burdensome” for transportation workplaces.
Proponents were surprised by the transportation industry opposition, especially since the bill had been modified to accommodate criticisms from some of the affected industries, including airlines and fast food. Lummis says she is working with industry to propose changes, but the path forward is unclear as the legislation has been languishing in the Senate for months and the bill’s sponsors say they’ve already worked through concerns.
Tina Sherman, a senior campaign director at MomsRising, a policy group prioritizing moms and families, said the block was “startling.”
“It’s been passed out of the Senate committee for a year, and just now, aviation and railway are coming?” she said. “With the formula shortage, we are just doubly taxing parents at this point.”
Lummis argues the bill (S. 1658), which requires employers to offer nursing workers reasonable break times and private lactation space, doesn’t provide enough flexibility for transportation employers, including railroads. The House passed a similar version (H.R. 3110) last year by 276-149.
“Many women in this industry are quite literally keeping the trains running on time—entire supply chains could be disrupted,” Lummis said.
Major transportation groups, including the American Trucking Associations, the Association of American Railroads, and Airlines for America, supported the objection, taking to social media to thank Lummis and proposing different paths forward to tweak the legislation.
Many employers are currently required to offer time and space to nursing workers, but others—including teachers, agricultural workers, and airline workers—do not get those protections.
“No business, industry, or Senator should be standing in the way and forcing some employees to stop nursing their babies,” bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said in a statement to Bloomberg Government. “We now have the benefit of over ten years of evidence showing that this straightforward policy can be accommodated in all industries and business settings.”
Abegail Cave, press secretary for Lummis, said the senator has been in touch with major industry groups about their concerns and is working on an amendment that “would ensure burdensome federal regulations do not cripple the transportation sector.“
But Merkley and others said they had already worked with industries to address their concerns. Merkley said railroads weren’t among the groups who came to them in the past and that they had already worked out industries that needed special accommodations.
“We’re going to want to work with members in both the House and the Senate to try to find a solution, and pathway forward here. Honestly, this is the first that we’ve heard of objections from the railroad industry,” Greg Regan, president of the Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO.
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