News & Commentary

August 17, 2016

Lauren Godles

Lauren Godles is a student at Harvard Law School.

Only a dire situation would motivate an airline pilot to personally demonstrate the use of her breast pump in front of colleagues at a union meeting — and that situation is a complete lack of maternity and breastfeeding accommodations. In a fascinating piece yesterday, the New York Times chronicled the struggles of pregnant and nursing pilots, who are exempt from a provision in the ACA that requires most employers to accommodate new mothers. In addition to lacking 1) support from mostly-male unions, 2) paid maternity leave, and 3) adequate breaks and locations in which to pump breast milk while flying, female pilots can also lose wages months before having children. Most major airlines force pregnant pilots to stop flying 8-14 weeks before their due dates. That can mean an additional three or four months of unpaid leave for new mothers. Unions and airlines cite cost and safety concerns associated with the female pilots’ demands, but many are re-examining their policies in response to the women’s advocacy.

For more uplifting news about women workers, read about how the “matriarchy” of female-dominated cocktail servers’ and hotel workers’ unions in Las Vegas is helping to shrink the pay gap and provide benefits that actually get better as women age.

The Department of Labor released a proposed rule in the Federal Register last week that would strengthen enforcement against immigration-related discrimination in the workplace. Under the proposed rule, employers would be subject to strict liability (no requirement of a showing of economic harm stemming from a violation) for unlawful documentary practices. The enforcement office within DOJ’s Civil Rights Division would also change its name from the “Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices” to the much more manageable “Immigrant and Employee Rights Section.” Comments are due in mid-September.

The Koch group is asking members to “ban the box,” citing criminal justice reform as an important priority for the group. Though ban the box measures have received mixed reviews, a NELP study published last week shows that ban the box is working, and that the problems sometimes associated with it are due not to the programs, but rather to “entrenched racism in the hiring process.”

And in international news, India is in the midst of ratifying two important labor laws. The first was signed by the President in late July 2016 and deals with child labor, most notably by prohibiting employment for children under 14 years of age. According to the 2011 census, there were over 33 million child laborers in India, so the law represents a much-needed response. However, despite the urging of UNICEF and other advocates, the law includes a major loophole for “family work.” The second law, which has been passed by the upper house of India’s parliament and is expected to be passed by the lower house as well, extends paid maternity leave from 12 to 26 weeks in an effort to reduce workplace attrition by new mothers.

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