Several Feminist Majority Foundation staff members in DC headed to the Supreme Court last Wednesday to join the Stand With Pregnant Workers Rally in support of Peggy Young in the Peggy Young vs. UPS Supreme Court Case. I was among the FMF ralliers decked out in pink and carrying signs that read “Stop The War on Women.”
The rally was held in support of Peggy Young, a woman who worked as a delivery driver for UPS. As a driver, she typically only carried small envelopes and parcels, but when the company heard she was pregnant, they asked for a note from her doctor clearing her to work. The doctor wrote that Young could not lift over 20 pounds, which should not have affected her job, however, she was fired and left without health insurance during her pregnancy. The oral arguments for her case were heard in the Supreme Court last Wednesday, which is why we rallied outside. This was my first rally, and the fact that it was held at SCOTUS made it THE COOLEST first experience. When I arrived, Bob Casey, my home state’s senator, was speaking on the importance of rights in the workplace for pregnant women, like more bathroom and water breaks, and seating accommodations if requested (go Pennsylvania!). Though the Feminist Majority Foundation had a great turnout at the event, so many other important organizations were also there in support of the cause. Groups like URGE, MomsRising , This is Personal, NARAL and NOW showed up in support and overall, there were 120 participants in the rally. Several women spoke on their experiences with being forced to take unpaid leave while pregnant, even when their doctors said it was safe for them to work. Most of these issues arose in lower-income, male-dominated jobs that required small amounts of manual labor, like jobs at Walmart or factory facilities.
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One story in particular struck a chord with me. A woman who had three kids was recently married and had a fourth on the way. She worked two jobs – a night shift at Walmart and a day shift at a medical supply company. When she found out she was pregnant, she brought each job’s manager a note from her doctor, stating that she was still able to work, but that she wouldn’t be able to do much heavy lifting. The medical supply company immediately shifted her to the light load line, while Walmart transferred her to the toothpaste aisle. She spent about two weeks working in light lifting at Walmart before the company told her they only had heavy lifting jobs available, and that she would be transferred to the produce aisle to work. In order to make ends meet, she kept her job at Walmart, stocking produce and lifting well beyond the 20-pound limit her doctor set.
One day, she noticed she was bleeding during her shift at Walmart. She ignored it until she arrived at her second job the next day, where she mentioned it to her boss, who immediately took her to the hospital. There, she found out she miscarried, an issue her doctor attributed to stress and heavy lifting from her job.
This woman’s story – just one of the many we heard at the rally today, and one of the many more women choose to stay silent about – shows the glaring differences in the way companies choose to handle pregnancy. The medical supply facility did it right – allowing the woman to keep her job and her dignity, while Walmart grossly mishandled the issue by choosing not to rework their staffs’ assignments.
Speakers from both conservative and liberal camps made it to the rally, as did those who were Jewish, Unitarian and Christian. This unification was an important reminder that anyone can get behind pregnant workers’ rights – especially when it comes to keeping both the mother and child safe and healthy.
The rally wrapped up when Young and her lawyer emerged from the Supreme Court after giving their oral arguments. While the Supreme Court most likely won’t decide the case until summer, the Feminist Majority Foundation will continue to stand behind Young and the rest of the pregnant workers whose rights have been violated by their employers.
The Stand With Peggy Rally served as an important reminder that while pregnant women’s bodies may be in a more vulnerable place than usual, they are no less competent than other workers. Pregnancy is an important time for women to work – so they can have enough money to support their baby once it arrives, and so they have access to health insurance in case any complications arise during their pregnancy. That companies are firing pregnant women rather than making accommodations for them in the workplace means they are not only grossly violating women’s rights, but they are hurting both the woman’s – and her baby’s – chances at a safe, healthy birth.