Union seeking changes in state law after teacher is denied extra time to pump breast milk

Published: Oct. 20, 2019 at 11:30 PM EDT
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(10/20/19) - Controversy over breastfeeding at a Birch Run school forced one teacher to call on her union.

The teacher said administrators refuse to give her reasonable time to pump breast milk at school. The teacher is requesting an extra 15 minutes in the morning to pump, but the superintendent says he's already following the proper protocol.

The union is hoping to change that at a level that goes beyond Birch Run.

Amy Urbanowski Nowak with the Birch Run Education Association is going to bat for the Birch Run High School teacher, who says she's being denied her rights a new mother.

The teacher returned from maternity leave in August and asked for an extra 15-minute break to express milk at work, but school officials said no.

"We need to make sure that we're supporting teachers in the classroom and supporting mothers because this isn't just about a mother who's an employee. It's about a child and his or her well-being. It seems like this might be something that happened in 1950, but it should not be happening in 2019," Urbanowski Nowak said.

Superintendent David Bush said he's obligated to follow their collective bargaining agreement. Under the contract, K-12 teachers get two extended breaks during a seven-hour work day: one is about 35 minutes and the other 60 to 72 minutes.

"We're dealing with about 100 different teachers and consistency is extremely important. You have those rules of engagement for a reason and we want to be fair, and fairness is about also treating everybody according to the language that's been bargained," Bush said.

Currently, federal law requires employers to provide reasonable break time for women who need to express milk in the workplace. Urbanowski Nowak saidthe hiccup in this law is it only covers hourly employees and teachers are considered salary.

She said the law doesn't cover teachers like it should.

"Right now, we do have a representative named Rebekah Warren, who is looking into drafting legislation regarding teachers and milk expression in the classroom. I think that's really what needs to happen, so that every district in the state of Michigan understands that women have this biological need and it is their right to express milk when needed," Urbanowski Nowak said.

She said maybe there's a reason women haven't come forward.

"They thought, 'You know what? This is the schedule. I may lose milk supply, but I really don't want to say anything because maybe there isn't a law that protects me. Maybe there is no language that protects me,' and I think that this has been something that has affected many women. I think many women have been silent about this," Urbanowski Nowak said.

Bush said in his 10 years as superintendent, he's never had this issue come up, and every teacher has made it work.

"To change a schedule on an every-single-day basis, that does impact our students and that's the core reason why we're here -- is to educate our students," Bush said.

The union will be negotiating a new contract in the spring and they plan on including this issue as part of a new deal.

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