Do MA Dems Stand for Women’s Rights in the Workplace Or Not?

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The 190th legislative session has been off to a slow start on Beacon Hill. Beyond the pay raise, and the budget process, the Legislature has not been doing much in the way of, well, legislating.

One small bit of progress was the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, which passed the House unanimously last month. The bill requires employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” for pregnant women and nursing mothers (such as more frequent breaks, less strenuous duties, and the ability to sit down on the job) provided that they don’t cause “significant difficulty or expense.”

This new bill is not as strong as the one introduced last session—which Speaker DeLeo and others in the Democratic leadership, doing the bidding of powerful business interests, blocked. Like much progressive legislation, the bill died in committee. The 2017 bill resulted from negotiations between women’s advocacy group MotherWoman and the Associated Industries of Massachusetts (AIM). And although it was watered down to get AIM on board, the bill was nonetheless a positive development for women across the Commonwealth.

But because of a lack of transparency in how the House operates, it was almost watered down even further.

As the Globe reported on Thursday, the powerful Ways & Means Committee quietly changed one word in the bill in committee before it went to a vote:

But it emerged from the House Committee on Ways and Means for a full vote on the floor with the word “knowingly” added at the beginning of that sentence. The language passed in the House without anyone noticing the change, and now the bill awaits a vote in the Senate.

It’s an addition that advocates for these pregnant worker protections say creates a serious new layer of what a worker would have to prove if she felt there was discrimination in her denial of a job. To prove an employer acted “knowingly” requires direct evidence that the employer knew the applicant was pregnant and denied them a job because of it — a much higher standard of proof.

Sponsors of the bill were not notified, nor were key advocates who helped negotiate it. AIM claimed to have not been behind the change, although it was clearly done in their interest.

Because of the blowback that followed the Globe story, Speaker DeLeo’s office said yesterday that the House will remove the contentious addition. However, advocates of this bill--and of all progressive legislation--need to keep an eye out for such stealth changes going forward. Sunlight is one of the best disinfectants, and the Legislature needs quite a bit of sunlight.

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published this page in Issues 2017-06-11 20:02:26 -0400
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