First the good news: last Thursday night the Senate unanimously voted for providing pregnant workers with a right to workplace accommodations. Now the bad news: the measure is nonbinding and purely symbolic — unless the Senators who voted for it are held accountable for supporting the real thing.
The budget amendment, introduced by Senator Casey, Senator Shaheen, and Senator Murray, was the first opportunity for Senators to vote on accommodations for pregnant workers. And it was a big hit! Unanimous votes are not so typical in the Senate these days, even for nonbinding measures. In some ways, though, unanimous support for the measure isn’t so surprising. After all, West Virginia, Illinois, and Delaware all unanimously passed bills requiring reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers in 2014, as did Philadelphia, D.C., Providence, and (the year before) New York City. Only one legislator voted against New Jersey’s 2014 pregnancy accommodations law. So far in 2015 legislative sessions, North Dakota has passed a pregnancy accommodation bill with just one legislator voting in opposition, and the Kentucky House has unanimously approved a pregnancy accommodations bill that now awaits action in the Kentucky Senate. We hope more unanimous support is in the future not just in the states, but in Congress — and next time, for a law that provides pregnant workers with real, enforceable rights.
Words of support for pregnant workers are a great first step — but the 100 Senators who voted for this measure need to understand that sweet talk cannot be a substitute for action. Luckily, Senators have an opportunity to follow up their words with action: the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will be reintroduced next month. Following on the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling for pregnant workers in Young v. UPS last week, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act would clarify and strengthen pregnant workers’ rights and ensure that no woman has to choose between a job and a healthy pregnancy. While the bill has attracted strong Democratic support in past Congresses, Republicans have yet to co-sponsor the bill, which has meant that it cannot move forward. But the vote last week confirms that need not be the case. Fairness for pregnant workers is a commonsense principle that everyone should be able to support. The Senators who expressed their support last week must be held accountable for offering their support when it counts.