In my quest to find the truth—as responsible journalists do—behind the Chicago Transit Authority’s authority over their female employees, I was shocked.
I was shocked at the stories I heard from the women workers about the issues they face in the workplace. I couldn’t believe what these ladies were going through on a daily basis and how their customers and employer treats them.
One woman, in particular, was dealing with breastfeeding at work. During our conversations, one of her coworkers mentioned an Illinois law concerning breastfeeding mothers. Curiously and truthfully, I wanted to discover what this law was and what exactly it entails. My Echo comrades and I thought we were going to uncover a legal wrongdoing of the CTA and throw the book in their face, but what I found was worse. I didn’t know it could be, but it was.
The Illinois Nursing Mothers in the Workplace Act states the following: “An employer shall provide reasonable unpaid break time each day to an employee who needs to express breast milk for her infant child. The break time must, if possible, run concurrently with any break time already provided to the employee. An employer is not required to provide break time under this section if to do so would unduly disrupt the employer’s operations.”
So basically, the CTA isn’t required by law to provide a space for breastfeeding employees if doing so “unduly disrupts” their work. It goes on: “An employer shall make reasonable efforts to provide a room or other location, in close proximity to the work area, other than a toilet stall, where an employee described in section 10 can express her milk in privacy.” This struck me again because the CTA woman I spoke with about her breastfeeding problems described a moldy shower stall inside an employee bathroom as the CTA’s accommodations to her request. Is the moldiness not enough to get this woman a cleaner place to pump? Are these poor accommodations threatening the safety and health of this woman and her baby? What if they both get infected or sick because of bacteria living inside that CTA shower stall? Why is it legally OK for this to be happening? And why is it happening in the workplace of a mother with a new baby?
It made me sick to my stomach to learn the legality of a moldy shower being an acceptable place to get food for a baby. Personally, I think breastfeeding should be more normalized than it is. Especially in public spaces. It’s nothing nobody’s seen before, some of us have even been breastfeeding babies in our early years. Right?! Clearly, there’s got to be a better method for the CTA to make sure their breastfeeding employees are provided a safe, clean space in 2017.