Merkley Introduces Breastfeeding Legislation and Highlights Portland Police Bureau’s Commitment to Working Mothers

Portland, OR – Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today joined Portland Police officers and breastfeeding advocates to introduce the Supporting Working Moms Act. This legislation would expand a provision that Merkley succeeded in including in the health care reform law to ensure that new mothers have the time and space to express milk for their babies while at work. Merkley also highlighted the efforts of the Portland Police Bureau to provide a flexible policy for nursing mothers. 

“By just making a few changes, businesses and employers can make a huge difference in the lives of working moms and their babies. Breastfeeding is good for babies, it’s good for moms, and it’s good for business. This legislation expands the 2010 back to work breastfeeding provisions to all mothers, both wage earning and salaried,” said Merkley. “The Portland Police Bureau is a great place to announce this bill because they have shown what a successful family-friendly, pro-mother workplace can look like.” 

According to the Business Case for Breastfeeding published by the Department of Health and Human Services, employers that provide support for breastfeeding mothers experience lower health care costs, lower rates of absenteeism, and better retention of experienced employees. Research studies have shown that children who are breastfed have reduced rates of mortality, meningitis, some types of cancers, asthma and other respiratory illnesses, bacterial and viral infections, diarrheal diseases, ear infections, allergies, and obesity.  Breastfeeding has also been proven to provide numerous benefits to mothers, including improved bone mineralization, an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight, and reduced risk of certain cancers. 

“The Supporting Working Moms Act, provides protection from women in the workplace so they can insure the positive long term health impacts of exclusive breast milk feeding on themselves and their baby without sacrificing the economic stability of their family,” said Marion Rice, Ed.D. Director- Breastfeeding Coalition of Oregon.  

Current law provides mothers who are classified as non-exempt employees with reasonable break times to express milk in a private, non-bathroom environment while at work. The Supporting Working Moms Act would expand this provision to cover approximately 12 million salaried women who work in traditional office environments. Employers are not required to compensate an employee for the break time to express milk, and an employer with fewer than 50 employees who is unable to meet the requirements under the provision is exempt if it would pose an undue hardship. 

“Being a police officer is a difficult job.  Being a police officer and providing for the nutritional needs of your infant child can be extremely difficult.  It is the goal of the Portland Police Bureau to be as supportive as possible to assist women officers in providing this level of care to their newborn child while maintaining their ability to be part of our workforce,” said Portland Police Chief Mike Reese. 

The Supporting Working Moms Act is co-sponsored by Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). Identical legislation was introduced in the House today by Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (D-NY).