New Memorandum of Understanding on Discrimination in Tentative Agreement

Debby Szeredy

January 6, 2022

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(This article first appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of the American Postal Worker magazine)

Our new Tentative Agreement has a Memorandum of Understanding on Discrimination & Harassment. It clarifies what kind of discrimination violates Article 2. It also includes the creation of an educational APWU/ USPS taskforce that will increase the knowledge and understanding of the protections the law provides to post office employees around the country. This education is desperately needed.

This article describes a specific form of discrimination that violates the Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978), Affordable Care Act (2010) Section 4207 and the Fair Labor Standards Act. It occurs when management fails to provide lactation accommodations to express breast milk. Article 2 and Article 5 stipulate that management cannot be inconsistent with its obligations under the law.

Management is required to provide a reasonable break time, in a temporary space that is secure, clean, private and appropriate for new mothers to pump milk. That area cannot be a bathroom – it must be a place that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from coworkers and the public during at least the first year after the birth of a baby.

Management should not force a woman to choose between the health of herself and her baby when it comes to breastfeeding. There have been recent cases where management has stated to employees that if they want to express milk while at work that it would be a problem. Some supervisors suggest it must be done in the bathroom, breakroom, or locker room. These spaces violate management’s obligations under the law. There are some workers who have felt forced to quit their job.

One brave woman recently filed a case against the USPS. She filed her case in District Court based on the USPS failure to provide accommodations, violating the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Fair Labor Standards Act. The case took two years to litigate, but in February of 2021 management was obligated to pay her compensation for emotional damages, and was required to provide training to the supervisors and managers in the district. The USPS had to direct their supervisors to affirmatively tell employees who ask about parental leave, or when a new parent comes back to work, about their rights to be able to express breast milk at work and offer the worker lactation accommodations. They also had to provide employees with the fact sheet from the Department of Labor on employee rights after returning from maternity leave that explains nursing mothers’ rights. Management cannot refuse to hire a woman because of her pregnancy related condition as long as she is able to perform the major functions of her job. The law forbids discrimination based on pregnancy when it comes to employment, pay, job assignments, promotions, layoffs, training, fringe benefits, hiring, firing, and any other term or condition of employment including leave.

A frustrating part of this story is that many of these discrimination laws are between 11 and 43 years old. Clearly much progress remains to be made. But by adding this MOU to the tentative agreement, I hope that the task force can educate postal managers on the rights they must provide postal workers, and make sure our members know what those rights are, before they feel forced to quit their job. Always seek help from your union steward. Don’t fight your battles alone: an injury to one, is an injury to all.

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