NCTR Opts to Close Lactation Room in Retaliation

Food and Drug Administration (FDA) National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) in the Jefferson Laboratories Campus
NCTR Jefferson Laboratories Campus

Not long ago, when an employee told me that the National Center for Toxicological Research (NCTR) created a lactation room in the Occupational Health Unit (OHU), Building 54, room 116, I was very happy for all the nursing mothers who work at NCTR. I was also concerned about management’s policies for its use, particularly since management did not notify NTEU Chapter 254 of this change. The lactation room has been functional since September 18, 2015.

I respectfully asked management for notice and a briefing. Some of my questions and concerns include:

  • What are the features of this lactation room? Is it private? Is it secure? What equipment does it include?
  • How will employees request to use it? What happens when there’s a scheduling conflict? Is there a scheduling system in place?
  • How often and for how long can an employee express breast milk during the workday?
  • What protections will the Employer afford pregnant and breastfeeding employees working in the laboratory? What standards is the Employer using to safeguard the employee and her child?

During a visit to the facility in early November 2016, I had the opportunity to see the lactation room. While fairly adequate, management stated that they have no written policy for its use. This is a concern since it may result in disparate treatment of users by their supervisors when requesting to take a break to pump breast milk in private.

Management refuses to draft a policy for the use of the lactation room or to negotiate over such policy with the Union. In fact, they decided to close the lactation room rather than consulting and/or bargaining in good faith with the Union as required by federal labor law and our Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA).

NCTR management claims that, since NTEU and FDA are currently negotiating a Nursing Mothers Program to be implemented throughout the agency, creating a policy for the NCTR lactation room is not necessary and completely at management’s discretion.

This is NTEU CountryThe Union’s position is that the NCTR lactation room requires an interim policy for its use until the national policy is established after negotiations are completed. I am a member of the NTEU national negotiations team on the FDA Nursing Mothers Program, so I know how far behind the agency is in the negotiation process. The agency’s briefing to the union resulted in many unanswered questions that the agency representatives promised to answer. We are still waiting for those answers, which are necessary for us to complete our proposals on this subject. Meanwhile, NCTR employees do not know of a procedure to request the lactation room, what they need to bring to the lactation room (since it is not provided), or the frequency or duration of lactation sessions their supervisors will allow them, among other concerns.

You may recall that the Center of Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER) Division of Pharmaceutical Analysis (DPA) laboratory in St. Louis, Missouri, notified, briefed, and bargained with NTEU Chapter 254 over their new lactation room and the policy for its use while FDA and NTEU were already bargaining over the Nursing Mother’s Program. I mentioned this to NCTR management and provided them a copy of the resulting agreement as a template, but they still refuse to produce a policy on this subject or bargain over it.

I sent some basic proposals to NCTR management hoping to convince them to agree to them or counter them in bargaining. So far, I have not received a response from NCTR management on this subject.

Skeptical baby, "Do you think $18 a pay period is too much?"Losing the NCTR lactation room is unacceptable. This would not only be a huge inconvenience to nursing mothers working at NCTR, which is so very isolated in Jefferson County, Arkansas, but would also violate the provisions in the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), revised by the Affordable Care Act (ACA), that requires Employers to provide nursing mothers with 1) reasonable break time to express milk for one year after her child’s birth each time such employee has need to express breast milk; and 2) a private space, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion of others, to express breast milk.

Therefore, and in order to preserve the rights of the Union, NTEU Chapter 254 filed an institutional grievance against NCTR management for their refusal to consult and bargain in good faith and for retaliation.

I will keep you posted. Meanwhile, I welcome your input on this subject.