Expecting Alameda councilmember demands an area at City Hall for breast-feeding mothers

Alameda Councilmember Malia Vella

Alameda City Hall is one of the least modern centers of local government in the East Bay. The building lacks basic amenities and, for employees, particularly women, the lack of a dedicated room for breast-feeding is likely illegal.

In a council referral scheduled for Tuesday night, Alameda Councilmember Malia Vella, who is pregnant, is calling for city staff to immediately begin work on finding a permanent area at City Hall for mothers to breast-feed and pump breast milk, in addition, to installing diaper-changing tables, and gender neutral restrooms.

If the changes she is proposing are not made before delivering her child this May, Vella said bluntly, “I’ll breast-feed at the dais.”

“We’re doing a disservice to working moms and it’s a shame for us to be just now catching up with the millennium,” said Vella.

The referral cites the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employers with more than 50 workers to provide an area for breast-feeding in the workplace.

“It’s not an acceptable option to pump in the restrooms,” said Vella, who is expecting her newborn this May.  “It’s basically saying to mothers, ‘You’re not wanted'”

“My conundrum is the first and third Tuesdays of every month,” she added, referring to the twice monthly council meetings schedule, “for those working at City Hall it’s every day.”

Absent a specific place to breast feed or pump breast milk, Vella said other City Hall employees in the past have used a somewhat secluded section of the City Council Chambers located at the back of the room where audio and video technicians monitor television and streaming of live meetings.

Bringing City Hall up to date regarding the changing gender dynamics in the workplace has been on the council’s mind of late. Earlier this month, Vella led the council to adopt a resolution in support of an Assembly bill to extend sales tax exemptions on tampons and other female hygiene products.

Councilmember Jim Oddie, who is also part of the breast-feeding referral, said the city is not doing its part, despite the resolution, since it does not provide tampons in its women’s restrooms.

The referral also asks for changing tables be installed in restrooms, a feature long seen in many public buildings.