Pregnant members in Oregon now have expanded maternity leave benefits, making it easier to plan their families without risking their health.

Pregnant IBEW members in Oregon now have more options when it comes time to plan their families.

Portland, Ore., Local 48, working with the National Electrical Contractors Association and Harrison Trust, added a new maternity leave benefit for its members, as well as those of three other locals in the state. The benefit allows for six months of paid leave, with 13 weeks being available prior to the expected due date and 13 more available after.

It’s available to any pregnant member of Local 48, Salem Local 280, Medford Local 659 and Coos Bay Local 932. Members will receive $800 per week in time loss benefits.

“I want choices available to our members,” said Local 48 Business Manager Garth Bachman. “This benefit allows people to make decisions about pregnancy without worrying about going broke or losing health insurance.”

Modeled on a similar benefit offered by the Ironworkers, Bachman says theirs, which went into effect on Jan. 1, goes one step further by not requiring any disability requirements, like doctor-mandated bed rest, in order to qualify. Any pregnant member who wants to access this can do so.

The Trust will also pay monthly health insurance premiums so that the member will receive six months of free health insurance coverage during that time for their families.

“I don't want the industry dictating when members have kids,” Bachman said. “This puts the decision in the hands of the member.”

Bachman says the idea came to him from Bridget Quinn, workforce development coordinator for the NECA-IBEW Electrical Training Center. Quinn attended the 2017 Women Build Nations conference in Chicago where the Ironworkers unveiled their maternity leave plan and a member, Bridget Booker, told her miscarriage story which was caused by working too far into her pregnancy for fear of losing her job.

“At that moment, the trades were not keen on having pregnant women on the job site,” Booker said. “So, you would hide it. [The question was] do I provide for my children … or do I quit? Do I provide for my rent and my bills or do I tell them I am pregnant and lose everything?”

While it’s illegal to fire someone for being pregnant, Quinn noted that proving such discrimination is difficult.

“Our industry has frequent layoffs and it is difficult to prove when a layoff is due to a woman being pregnant. Being able to take leave eliminates that fear of pregnancy-related layoff,” Quinn said.

Bachman and Quinn said that the current healthcare coverage depends on banking hours over time to maintain coverage – hours that can quickly run out if a pregnant person takes leave. The new policy will freeze the member’s healthcare bank so that her hours are not depleted.

“This leave policy will enable more women to join and remain in our industry, which is a huge benefit to contractors who rely on women to help them build their workforce,” Quinn said.

With women comprising only about 3% of the construction workforce, offering such a benefit is a great way to recruit and retain more women. Quinn noted that when a woman knows that having children is a goal, they are left with some considerations to make regarding the type of career path they choose. Roughly 86% of women ages 40 to 44 are mothers, according to the Pew Research Center.

“Women will be encouraged to join and remain in this industry when they know that their healthcare and family needs are taken into account,” Quinn said.

The benefit has already been utilized, Bachman said, and so far there have been no complaints.  

“I’m so glad to see NECA/IBEW are supporting women who work in the trades,” said Oregon Commissioner of Labor and Industries Val Hoyle in a statement. “Increasing the amount of protected time off women can take while pregnant and after childbirth is a great investment. It’s good for women’s careers, good for families and good for our workforce.”