Today, Black Mamas Matter Alliance and A Better Balance released a report, “Centering the Experiences of Black Mamas in the Workplace: How the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act Can Support Black Maternal Health.” The report highlights the urgent need for a federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, drawing lessons learned from a listening session our organizations hosted with Black birth workers and Black organizational leaders from nine states. The listening session participants shared poignant stories from directly impacted workers and explained how a lack of legal protections in the workplace has affected Black women’s health and economic security.
The report is especially timely as advocates are hopeful that Congress will pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act in the coming weeks, which would guarantee pregnant workers a right to modest, medically-necessary accommodations, so they don’t have to risk their health on the job.
It also comes on the heels of new CDC data revealing that the already-high maternal mortality rate in the U.S. has increased by 14% from 2019 to 2020, and that Black women experience a maternal mortality rate at nearly 3x the rate of white women—indicating that the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis have exacerbated the need for legal protections to promote Black maternal health. The pandemic and resulting economic crisis have only made workers and caregivers more vulnerable to mistreatment, discrimination, and health risks on the job.
Key takeaways from the report include:
- Too often, especially in states that lack a pregnancy accommodations law, Black pregnant and postpartum workers are faced with the impossible choice between maintaining their health and supporting themselves and their families due to the lack of pregnancy accommodations and other supportive workplace policies.
- A legacy of injustice and reproductive oppression has led to Black pregnant and postpartum workers continuously being underpaid and overworked, particularly in low-wage, physically demanding positions, and Black workers are often blamed for the adverse health outcomes they experience.
- Now more than ever, Congress must listen to Black women leaders who are seeing the consequences of the Black maternal health crisis in their communities every day, especially across the South. Their voices are key to understanding how systemic barriers in the workplace negatively impact the health of our country.
Until Congress takes action on this issue, Black pregnant and postpartum workers will continue to face unjust working conditions every day. One of our participants, Cherisse Scott, Founder and CEO of SisterReach in Tennessee, said:
“[T]he stress of losing a job or not having a good relationship with your employer due to your pregnancy is a social determinant of health. Poor, low wage birthing people are doing what they have to do to take care of themselves and their families and that means that taking abuse is often the end result.”
Angela D. Aina, Co-Founding Executive Director of Black Mamas Matter Alliance, says: “Despite having among the highest labor force participation rates in the country, Black workers continue to face multiple forms of discrimination in the workplace. While one piece of legislation cannot overturn systemic racist practices in the workplace overnight, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will ensure Black mamas can request and receive the accommodations they need, so they do not risk miscarriage, excessive bleeding, and other devastating health consequences. We are grateful to the leaders who shared their stories with us as they address and see the consequences of the Black maternal health crisis everyday in their communities.”
Dina Bakst, Co-Founder and Co-President of A Better Balance, adds: “In the midst of a global pandemic that has forced millions of women out of work, disproportionately women of color, the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act will remove one of the many barriers Black pregnant and postpartum workers face in ensuring their economic security and serve as one solution among many to address the Black maternal health crisis. As we heard in the listening session and from the workers we serve through our helpline, Black pregnant and postpartum workers face intersectional systemic barriers to thriving and continuing to financially support their families. Congress must heed the calls of Black women leaders across the country, whose voices are shining a light on a devastating, longstanding injustice, and pass the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act now.”