Monday, May 23, 2022
Deborah Widiss, Pregnant Workers Fairness Acts: Advancing a Progressive Policy in Both Red and Blue America, Nevada L.J. (forthcoming)
Pregnant workers often need small changes—such as permission to sit on a stool or to avoid heavy lifting—to work safely through a pregnancy. Federal law does not explicitly address this need. However, in the past decade, twenty-five states have passed laws that guarantee pregnant employees a right to reasonable accommodations at work. Despite the stark partisan divides in contemporary America, the laws have passed in both Republican- and Democratic-controlled states. This Essay, written for a symposium on using state legislation to advance civil rights, offers the first relatively-detailed case study of this remarkably effective campaign.
Advocates have generated bipartisan support by highlighting that the laws, generally known as Pregnant Workers Fairness Acts, simultaneously advance numerous distinct policy objectives. Lack of accommodations for pregnancy is a major barrier to women’s equality that disproportionately disadvantages poor and working-class women of color. Addressing this need is also a pro-family policy that promotes maternal and infant health and reduces liability risk to employers. These various frames help sell the policy to lawmakers across the political spectrum.
The state-level success has also been the result of effective partnerships between national organizations and state and local groups. Additionally, the Essay shows how the state legislative campaign has been reinforced by litigation in federal courts, advocacy to federal agencies and Congress, and worker organizing. Finally, the Essay explores how state-level organizing—even unsuccessful state campaigns—has bolstered support for analogous federal legislation.