Joined by some of her youngest constituents, infants held by their mothers, Supervisor Katy Tang took to the steps of City Hall today to announce her plans to introduce legislation requiring all SF workplaces to include "lactation spaces" for women to feed their infants or pump breast milk.
“New mothers who want to return to work face so many barriers, whether it’s juggling child care, balancing a new schedule or figuring out how to provide breast milk for their children,” Tang told the Chronicle, who reported on the Supervisor's legislative proposal. Specifically, that would call for every workplace, public and private, in the city to provide a lactation space furnished with a seat, a surface, an electrical outlet, and sink access. Finally, the proposal would require all future commercial buildings to include a similar space for lactation.
"Although there are existing lactation laws," Tang acknowledges, referring to state and federal law requiring employers make "reasonable efforts" to provide a space, other than a bathroom, for lactation, "they do not provide minimum standards, such as a place to sit or an electrical outlet," Tang contends. Furthermore, "Many women also do not feel comfortable asking their employers for lactation breaks."
The new legislation follows Tang's efforts of last year requiring the Department of Human Resources to develop a city policy for workplace breastfeeding including a policy for breastfeeding breaks. Jenna Gerry, an attorney with the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Centers, told the Chronicle last year that Tang's legislation would have little legal impact, but that "this is trying to promote that gold standard in the government buildings.” Soon after the legislation was passed, workers installed a lactation pod in the basement of City Hall.
According to Tang's aide Ashley Summers, the Supervisor decided to act further after an October report by the public Health Department showed breastfeeding rates among SF women were lowest among those at the bottom of the income scale. "There’s a disparity among moms who have the ability to breastfeed while going to work,” Summers told the Chronicle. “People like me have understanding employers who are supportive. But it was still hard to pump at work. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a mom to go back at six weeks with a boss who isn’t supportive.”
Some businesses, though, will likely contend that they can support their employees without creating a dedicated lactation space, especially if they're small and don't have many employees to begin with.
"Our goal is to make it as workable as possible for everybody, for all businesses big and small, for all employers and their employees,” the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce's Dee Dee Workman told the Chronicle. “We want to make sure that small businesses are not set up to fail. Most want to do the right thing, and are doing the right thing providing accommodations to the best of their abilities. We want to make sure they are not always in the position of saying, ‘No, we can’t do this.’”