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Companies address breastfeeding needs

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Saturday, March 01, 2008

WKBreastfeeding.jpg Wieden+Kennedy’s private breastfeeding room at its offices in downtown Portland.

STATEWIDE In the few months since Oregon’s workplace breastfeeding law arrived, some companies have been acting to comply with requirements to provide private space and time for new moms who need to pump breast milk at work, while others with existing support are kicking it up a notch.

It took years for workplace breastfeeding protection to win enough support from business to pass through the state Legislature. Now that it’s here, lobbyists, breastfeeding advocates and companies say it will help nursing mothers without putting undue burden on industry.

The law, which took effect Jan. 1, requires Oregon employers to make a private area available for working mothers to express breast milk and 30 minutes of unpaid time off for every four hours worked to do it. It’s part of a wave of family-friendly workplace initiatives that has seen similar laws pass in a total of 14 states, with bills pending in 12 others.

Oregon’s workplace breastfeeding bill was introduced in 2001 but didn’t get far due to opposition from business groups for placing too many requirements on small business. It ultimately earned their approval after being reworked to exempt companies with fewer than 25 employees, which account for about 90% of Oregon businesses, according to the Alliance of Oregon Industries. Also exempt are business owners who can prove complying with the law would create an undue or financial hardship.

The Oregon companies that must comply represent 70% of the state’s workers. Some of them are carving mothers’ rooms out of offices or other space. Cascade Healthcare Community has created a mothers’ room at its hospitals in Bend and Prineville and two other facilities, and is creating such a room at its Redmond hospital. LaCrosse Footwear, the Portland work-boot manufacturer, is putting a mothers’ room in a former office, with a locking door, window shade, upholstered chair and table.

Many companies are long-time supporters of employees’ nursing needs, such as Wieden+Kennedy, which built a private breastfeeding room within its women’s locker room eight years ago when it moved to the Pearl district in Portland.

New Seasons Market, the natural foods chain with nine stores and 1,800 employees in the Portland metro area, has long provided employees with a private space to nurse, offered breastfeeding classes and hosted the website for the Nursing Mothers Counsel of Oregon, a breastfeeding advocacy group. It’s now working to rent breast pumps from the group for employees to use at work, and is underwriting the group’s telephone and Yellow Page ad expenses. “We felt it was so important that moms who needed help be able to call someone for information on how to take care of their baby,” says spokeswoman Claudia Knotek.

MICHELLE V. RAFTER



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