County Council Member Andrew Friedson (at podium) speaks at a news briefing Tuesday on legislation that would provide paid family leave for county employees, and require lactation rooms in county buildings. Credit: Photo By Steve Bohnel

With the backing of his colleagues, County Council Member Andrew Friedson is leading efforts to provide paid family leave and lactation rooms for county employees.

Friedson introduced two bills Tuesday that aim to accomplish those goals. One of them provides six weeks of a full salary for part- and full-time county employees, including biological parents, adoptive parents or foster parents. The bill also applies to county employees who are the spouse or domestic partner of a parent. 

The other bill would require county buildings to create private lactation rooms for employees, which would be outfitted with a flat surface where a breast pump can be placed, a sink with running water, a small fridge, a microwave, electrical outlets, a chair, and other needs.

Public hearings for both bills are scheduled for July 12 at 1:30 p.m.

Friedson was flanked by co-sponsor and Council Member Nancy Navarro, Council President Gabe Albornoz, Council members Tom Hucker and Sidney Katz, and other advocates for the legislation at a news conference outside the County Council office building in Rockville. 

Navarro said Friedson’s efforts build on legislation that the council passed in 2015, which established a more robust sick leave policy for county employees. And she added that the accompanying legislation to build lactation rooms is critical, especially in light of the recent national shortage in baby formula.

State Del. Ariana Kelly (D-Bethesda) said she’s had personal experience dealing with the lack of lactation rooms in the workplace. When she had her first child, she was working as a journalist and had to pump her breast milk without a lactation room in her newsroom, using the shared sink in the newsroom kitchen instead.

“It was humiliating, it was horrifying …,” Kelly said. “The message it sent to me as a new mom is that this place is not built for you.” 

Donna Rojas, chair of the Montgomery County Commission for Women, said the paid leave policy will benefit several county employees, especially women. Rojas, a former county employee, said she knows of countless examples of colleagues who had to save up their paid time off so they could it to care for their children after they were born.

Karen Gome Morales, bilingual program manager for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, said in an interview that she lives in Montgomery County, but chose to work in Washington, D.C., because of the benefits her job there provides, like paid family leave. 

Morales said that the District and employers in the city have been forward-thinking in how they provide paid family leave, and it’s good that Montgomery County is seeing the benefits of that. She added that the bill on lactation rooms is another important component.

“I’ve definitely heard from friends that are mothers that have had to lactate how hard it was to find somewhere that they can safely do it, discreetly do it, privately do it,” Morales said. 

Friedson said in an interview that both bills show that county government “is leading by the power of our example.” 

Fundamentally, the paid family leave bill shows that the county values its workforce, he said. Even if co-workers need to cover for those using family leave, providing paid family leave will show the county is serious about recruitment and retention efforts, and keeping a healthy, happy workforce, Friedson added.

“No matter what, people are going to have to pick up the slack [for those on leave]. The difference is, is it going to be permanent, or are we going to want them back?” Friedson said. “Are we going to encourage them to stay in the county workforce, or are we going to discourage them to the point that they leave?”

“We don’t want to spend all the time building up the institutional knowledge, training members of our workforce, getting them the skills to be productive supporters of our community — and then, when they have a child, to not have the right support here, and have to make that awful, impossible decision between taking care of their family and their newborn or their foster child or returning to work,” Friedson added.

During Tuesday’s news conference, Navarro said she would also be working with Friedson and advocates to also include parents who experience stillbirths in the legislation. Friedson said he’s supportive of that idea and that an amendment would be drafted soon.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com   

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com