ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) – The state legislature this year approved a paid break for breastfeeding mothers in a move that received bipartisan support and which experts call “the next frontier” for gender equality in the workplace.
GOP Senator Julia Coleman and DFL Representative Erin Koegel worked together in Parliament and the Senate to extend protection and guaranteed that no one would lose income to pump breast milk.
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Federal law requires most employers to provide a reasonable break, but no compensation is required.
Minnesota is the third state in the country to update the statute so employers can not pay wages when mothers take that time; Illinois and Georgia have previously approved the policy. At least one state, Indiana, requires paid breastfeeding breaks for state employees, but that does not include all employers.
“You should never have to decide ‘will I keep my income and have food on the table for my family? Or will I give my baby food?'” Said Coleman, a first-time senator from Chanhassen with three sons under three. “We’re better than that in Minnesota.”
Asked what message the bill sends to the public: “It says breastfeeding is a part of working mothers’ lives. Deal with it,” Coleman said.
Liz Morris is the Vice President of the Center for WorkLife Law, a legal team at UC Hastings School of Law that focuses on gender, race, and class in the workplace. Morris was co-author of a report as found due to an unintentional legal technicality, over 9 million women of childbearing age are not covered by the federal Break Time Nursing Mothers Law.
Minnesota law before the addition of paid break time covered all categories of workers.
“I think paid breaks for breastfeeding are the next limit,” Morris said, noting that many workers have the right to take a paid break for health reasons. “No mother should be forced to choose between breastfeeding her baby and her livelihood, so laws like this really ensure that no mother has to make the impossible choice.”
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Rep. Erin Koegel first pushed for the bill in her second term two years ago. At the time, her infant daughter, Clara, a fixture around the capital, was strapped to her mother’s chest as Koegel represented her district during committee meetings and floor debates.
She said she was initially surprised to learn about the unpaid breastfeeding law.
“There are so many jobs that you can sit at your desk and pump,” Koegel said. “But there are so many jobs that you do not like retail. So making sure women have the ability to do that and not be punished for it was one of the most important things that I wanted to make sure we saw happen. ”
Working with Coleman was a bright spot for two parties. Koegel called it a “fantastic” opportunity to work to ensure that the provision passed both chambers.
“Representation means something,” Koegel said. “And those are the kinds of problems where we understand it a little better than our male counterparts.”
The changes were included in a major bill that also expanded pregnancy accommodation – such as frequent toilets, food and water breaks and limits for heavy lifting – to cover more workers. Employers with 15 or more people are now required to provide these homes, and workers can request them on day one of employment.
The law enters into force on 1 January.
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