By Veronica Hurtado
The reopening of the lactation room, E1-138, in the Student Services building for nursing mothers brings forth issues the school faces to comply with federal and state labor laws. Nursing mothers on campus have access to the lactation room after a member of the Work Environment Committee questioned last Tuesday whether the college provides the federal and state mandated service to employees, and services that could be extended to students.
Maria Guadalupe Garcia, Ph.D, is in her fifth year of teaching in the Life Science Department at East Los Angeles College and a member of the WEC, a group that works to address concerns of staff in their work environment. She presented the changes in the 2010 amendment of section 7 of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and Part 3 of Division 2 of the 2002 Labor Code of California.
Under the combination of the laws, California employers are required to provide a private place that isn’t the restroom and near their work area to express their breast milk. Employers must also provide employees who are nursing mothers with reasonable break time to express breast milk for their infant for a period of a year. “Every two to three hours a woman needs to take a break to express milk and it takes generally 30 to 40 minutes a pumping session,” Garcia said.
Under the laws, the break time given for lactation purposes is unpaid if it exceeds the time paid under the wage regulations. She also asked the committee if the school had policies in place to let employees and students know about where they can go to lactate. The committee informed her it was not aware of any policies except that Plant Facilities had worked with staff to accommodate office space for lactation purposes in efforts to comply with the law.
In a separate interview, Allison Mah, general foreman at Plant Facilities said that they had provided a rod and curtain to provide privacy to staff. The committee also informed that a lactation room was installed but was being used by the fiscal office, but that the room was going to be re-opened and properly equipped. “For the last three weeks, the lactation room assisted in high enrollment lines in front of the fiscal office,” Mah said.
Garcia is on her second pregnancy and experienced lactating in places that are not private while at work. “It (lactation) is one of those things that people are not going to ask, ‘By the way are you lactating? Would you like to have some accommodation?’ No one is going to ask you that,” Garcia said.
News of this concern reached Oscar Valeriano, vice president of student services, who had a meeting with Tom Furukawa, vice president of administrative services, the next day to discuss the materials needed for the lactation room. The lactation room is furnished with a couch, table and refrigerator for nursing mothers to store milk, Valeriano said.
At the moment there is only one lactation room on campus for two reasons.
Although Richard Moyer, vice president of academic affairs, is not best suited to speak about lactation rooms, he said, that at the this time a lactation room in every building can’t be installed, “because the faculty that do need (to use a lactation room) are few.” In the scheme of things it is not practical if it is going to take away classrooms for teaching when the school is limited in space.
Yet, faculty and students can expect the addition of extra lactation rooms. Furakawa said, “The college has no issue of providing space. It is just finding the area that is suitable and figuring out how to manage the room.”
He said the school has plans to have one on each side of the campus and one in the middle. At the moment they were looking for a lactation room on the east and west side of the campus. “We just started to try to figure it out,” he said. The challenge to this plan Furakawa said is that “there is not a lot of space on campus.” The problem is finding an open room to use.
Valeriano said, in the new buildings, there is a plan to put a lactation room for students and faculty in the new student center. Students will have to get a key to enter the room from the student services office. The key will be in this room from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. In the evening, students can go to the financial aid office and F.A. Technician Julio Alvarado will have the key.
Valeriano said that since the E1 building opened last year, no one indicated need for a lactation room and they decided to repurpose the room to expedite the lines in the fiscal office. “If the issue would have been brought to my attention earlier, I would have addressed it quicker,” Valeriano said.
Furthermore, the school was complying with labor laws, while temporally repurposing the single lactation room on campus. Both Valeriano and Furakawa said that accommodations for lactation were made for faculty. “(Plant Facilities) provided curtains to people and hung them in faculty offices and what not,” Furakawa said.
“In the past we also allowed them to use small conference rooms. Evidently one of our instructors was using a small conference room,” said Valeriano. Although by law the school is not required to provide lactating accommodations for students, he also added that students were also accommodated to lactate if they asked.
Providing the opportunity for students to use the single lactation room is important for Garcia. She said, “Every single semester I have one or two of my students who is pregnant. They come up to me and tell me that they are breast feeding and ask where can they go to express their milk.”
She knows that there is physical pain involved if nursing women don’t express their milk and, as students, they need to be provided with access to be able to succeed in school. Valeriano said, “ELAC takes care of our people no matter who they are.”