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Local 3005 wins mom pod

LACTATION NATION: President Jeff Oshins with Stephanie Pack-Berg and VP Samantha Rappa-Giovagnoli who won a pod for nursing moms at OCME.

With more than 160 women scientists on staff, the world’s largest DNA crime and toxicology laboratory is now a more mama-friendly workplace thanks to union leaders who fought for a Mamava lactation pod for members to pump and breastfeed at work in privacy.

“We advocated for our members who did not have proper conditions to breastfeed at work and won a major victory,” said Local 3005 Vice President Samantha Rappa-Giovagnoli. Sixty percent of the forensic scientists at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner are women.

After nearly a year of labor-management meetings, and armed with Affordable Care Act mandates, local leaders successfully negotiated for a designated lactation space.

“Our membership at the crime and toxicology lab is largely women,” said Local 3005 President Jeff Oshins, “so this win is huge.” 

The Mamava pod, usually found in airports, is a modern answer to a longstanding question: how does mama do what’s best for baby when society is squeamish about breastfeeding in public?

The groundswell of social media support for new mamas and evidence touting the health benefits of breastfeeding led Rappa-Giovagnoli and then-Local 375 OCME Chapter President Stephanie Pack-Berg to research ways to accommodate members. They presented to Labor Relations the idea for a Mamava as a workable solution.

To attract and retain women employees, OCME, like other agencies, began rethinking workplace accommodations for lactating moms. ACA requires employers with more than 50 hourly employees to set aside dedicated lactation spaces, as needed. A bathroom won’t due.

“Initially OCME set aside a conference room where mothers could pump or breastfeed,” explained Rappa-Giovagnoli. “But the moms had to vacate the space for meetings.”

Nursing moms were left to get in where they could fit in.

“The conference room’s glass partitions didn’t offer much privacy,” Rappa-Giovagnoli said, “and there was no place to clean breast pump equipment.”

“Management admitted they didn’t understand all that women go through,” she added. “We learned that the Health Department installed a Mamava pod at 2 Gotham, and it wasn’t long before we convinced OCME to do the same.”

The Mamava lactation pod provides privacy and a clean, quiet environment for mothers to pump breastmilk and nurse their infants. The portable unit costs about $11,000 and is a cheaper solution than retrofitting a space. OCME lab’s fourth floor pod also is used by NYC Clerical Administrative Local 1549 members. The working mamas are happy to share.

Local 3005 represents 280 OCME Criminalists levels 1-4. They perform DNA testing used to identify and individualize a person’s genetic profile and link it to evidence found at crime scenes. They assist in researching cases of sudden infant death syndrome, SIDS. They perform toxicology studies on specimens collected from autopsies and perform DUI and DWI testing on specimens collected by law enforcement.

All forensic scientists have a bachelor’s degree in biological or chemical sciences and many have advance degrees. Their salaries start at around $50,000 and can advance to $96,000 under the union’s new economic agreement.

Their salaries rank 48th in the nation for lowest pay, according to data collected in 2015.

These OCME titles are noncompetitive and Local 3005 leaders have worked with management to streamline the promotion process so it’s now based on interviews and work history.

“We have a list of challenges we hope to address as a new local,” said Oshins, “including career advancement, pay disparity, health and safety, and paid family leave.”

“Our motto is science serves justice,” Rappa-Giovagnoli added. “Our impartial analyses helps law enforcement determine whether their investigations are heading in the right direction, which leads to arrests, convictions and exonerations.”