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I thought I’d put all the information about our activism at Walmart together here in timeline format. Let me know if you have anything to add, especially as it pertains to your own contact with Walmart and any response you have gotten.
January 7, 2015
Julie Boerst attempts again to set up a meeting between moms and management, also highlighting how Walmart’s vague responses and non-responses are leading moms toward activism and media when they prefer to work cooperatively directly with Walmart.
January 6, 2015
A Walmart employee shares some positive news that Walmart has attempted to communicate on this issue with staff:
“Okay, so I asked around (I work at the Vestal Walmart) and Micah has made a point to bring up the breastfeeding policies that Walmart and NYS have. I did not attend such a meeting because I was working a different schedule, but someone who did attend told me that he basically said that he doesn’t care if a breastfeeding mother is sitting down in the middle of an aisle – you are NOT allowed to say anything to her about moving, because she has every legal right to be there! It’s a start at least! I’ll let you know as I find more out (such as training).”
Julie Boerst responds:
“That’s good news! I’m wondering if there is one employee in particular who has strong views or who just missed the boat and was working on both December 26 and January 2. Could it have been just one misinformed person? If you ever happen to get a copy of what the breastfeeding policy is, I’d love to have it.”
The Walmart employee replies:
“Different areas. The employee from 12/26 I believe was a manager and probably was just trying to handle the “situation” (complaining customer) in the wrong manner. And 1/2 was near the fitting room and I have no clue who that was, but I could try to find out and see what their side was and inform them of the law.”
So it seems that Walmart has attempted to address the issue but is not yet reaching every employee, so moms are still at risk of being harassed there.
January 5, 2015
Moms call the Vestal, NY, Walmart to respond to the January 2 incident and highlight the need for additional training of management and employees.
One mom is told that the store manager is on vacation this week and no one is able to tell her what the breastfeeding policy is.
Julie Boerst identified herself as from the Public Breastfeeding Network and was referred to Walmart media relations:
” I just spoke with Kim, the manager on duty. She referred me to the home office media relations department. That’s Brooke at 479-372- 2255, or the direct media relations hotline at 800-331-0085.
I left my contact number and an offer from the Public Breastfeeding Network for free training.”
Julie left a message for Brooke on January 5 and one with media relations hotline on January 6. Both messages emphasized mothers’ preference for working cooperatively with Walmart, and how a quick response was necessary to ensure that we don’t turn our energy toward activism and media instead. Julie also asked again in each message for Walmart’s breastfeeding policy. As of January 7, no response from Walmart.
Another mom reported this more positive response:
“I spoke to the manager on duty. He said the policy is exactly as the law states – women are free to nurse wherever they’re comfortable. If they want to use a fitting room they can but they can nurse on the floor. I told him that I think maybe some of the employees are slow on the uptake with this policy and he said yes. So hopefully that means they’re working on it.”
January 3, 2015
According to a Walmart employee, in general, there is support for public breastfeeding amongst staff. The problem seems to be a few employees who need training:
“After the nurse-in, dozens of associates spoke with me and absolutely none of them have a problem with nursing moms. They were upset that a few rotten eggs make a bad name for that specific store.”
It seems that if Walmart would just work with us or communicate specifically about the training steps they’re taking, we could resolve this issue.
January 2, 2015
Moms celebrate when nurse-in organizer Abbi Bennett-Juhl receives an emailed apology from the Vestal, NY Walmart’s store manager, Micah Caler:
December 31, 2014
Julie Boerst contacts Micah Caler personally to try to set up a meeting between moms and management.
As of January 7, no response. Walmart is again indicating that they don’t want to work cooperatively with moms, leading the moms yet again to activism and media.
December 30, 2014
Julie Boerst decides to try to get to the bottom of Walmart’s breastfeeding policy. What is it? Do they really have one? Why can’t they share it?
She posts on the Walmart Facebook page asking for the policy, but her post is deleted. She then posts on the Vestal, NY Walmart Facebook page:
As of January 7, there is no response from Walmart, following their typical pattern of being vague or not responding at all. Local moms prefer to work cooperatively with Walmart to resolve this issue, but Walmart is not leaving them with much of a choice other than falling back on activism.
December 29 & 30, 2014
Public Breastfeeding is featured as a topic on WNBF’s Binghamton Now talk radio show. Local moms inform listeners about NYS public breastfeeding law and Walmart’s repeated violation, across the US and Canada, of public breastfeeding laws. They state their determination to make sure local management and employees are educated, along with their preference for working with Walmart rather than against them. If Walmart fails to respond, however, one option is seeking a fine from the NYS Attorney General as in the Barnes & Noble public breastfeeding case.
December 29, 2014
Volunteer Julie Boerst does extra research into Walmart’s history with breastfeeding moms in preparation for Binghamton Now, and is shocked to find that violating state laws is nothing new for Walmart. She sends the following to the host of Binghamton Now for background:
Here is information showing that Walmart’s problems with breastfeeding mothers are nothing new. We are quite frankly shocked that after so many incidents, Walmart has shown no evidence of having a comprehensive management and employee education program.
Barnes & Noble is miles ahead of Walmart on this, having learned their lesson after a $10,000 fine. They now have all managers and employees read New York State public breastfeeding law, along with an explanation of how employees should handle customer concerns about breastfeeding, and have employees sign to show that they understand the policy. (I know because I am a former employee.) Local moms have nothing but positive things to say about nursing in Barnes & Noble.
Walmart breastfeeding incidents:
Vestal, NY – 12/28/2014
El Paso, TX – 12/9/2014
Jacksonville, FL – 8/17/2014
Lynchburg, VA – 8/7/2014
North Carolina – 7/29/2014
Greenville, SC – 7/9/2014
Spruce Grove, Alberta, Canada – 5/16/2013
Langford, British Columbia, Canada – 7/18/2009
December 28, 2014
Approximately 8 moms and their babies/kids participate in the nurse-in at Vestal Walmart. They are not disturbed as they nurse publicly. Moms (including Katelyn) interview with the media afterward.
Moms continue to contact the Vestal, NY, Walmart and Walmart corporate headquarters to remind Walmart that it is obligated to follow NYS civil rights law. They receive vague responses that refer to a breastfeeding policy but never elaborate on what that is.
The following press release is sent to local media:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
Moms Want Vestal Walmart to Understand New York State Public Breastfeeding Law
Vestal, NY – December 28, 2014 – When moms and babies gathered inside Walmart today to nurse publicly and show their support for public nursing, they were pleased that their right to nurse in public was respected. Sadly, this is not always the case for nursing mothers in Walmart. Several local mothers have been asked to cover themselves or to move to a private location, despite the fact that New York State civil rights law protects their right to nurse in public.
In the most recent incident, Katelyn (who prefers not to share her last name), a mother of a newborn, was followed around the store on December 26 and instructed to nurse her baby in the restroom. She ended up outside in a cold car.
Nurse-in organizer Abbi Bennett-Juhl had a similar experience at Vestal Walmart. “I have personally nursed at the Vestal Walmart when my daughter was a few months old in her ring sling. I had a male employee approach me and ask if I could cover or use the fitting room to finish. We are holding a nurse-in at Walmart in Vestal, New York, because they have asked numerous breastfeeding mothers to cover up, go to the restroom/fitting room to nurse, or leave. This is against NYS law and violating a breastfeeding mother’s rights.”
Julie Boerst, a mother who has publicly nursed two of her children and is expecting a third, explains the focus of today’s nurse-in. “It’s all about education—in this case, the education of Vestal Walmart management and their employees—about New York State public breastfeeding law and how it applies to situations in which customers express concern about public breastfeeding. Walmart employees can legally assist concerned customers in redirecting their attention or moving to another location. They cannot, however, require a nursing mom to move, stop or cover up without violating her legal rights. Public exposure laws do not apply to breastfeeding moms in public or private locations in New York State.”
Here’s what all local retailers and their employees need to know:”1994 NY ALS 98; 1994 NY LAWS 98; 1994 NYSN 3999 79-e Right to Breast Feed. Right to breast feed. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding.
While moms are pleased that today’s nurse-in went well, they are less than impressed with Walmart’s public response to the incident on December 26 and public breastfeeding in general. Walmart has responded to comments on their Facebook page with the following statement:
“It is our policy to treat all customers, including breastfeeding mothers, with respect. We recognize the personal nature of the decision to breast-feed and never want to make a mother feel unwelcome in our stores because of this decision.”(https://www.facebook.com/Walmart1835/posts/750087898403135)
“While this is a nice PR statement, we’d like Walmart to recognize that treating public breastfeeding as a personal issue is precisely the problem. The fact is that when Walmart management and employees fail to understand and act in accordance with a New York State law, it is a legal issue. We want Walmart to address this as a legal issue with all management and staff,” says Julie Boerst.
Abigail Rudolph attended today’s nurse-in. “I was there today to support my fellow mothers and to raise awareness about breastfeeding. I hope Walmart makes their employees aware of the law and takes our concerns seriously.”
December 27, 2014
Nurse-in organizer Abbi Bennett-Juhl posts on Walmart’s Facebook page. Walmart responds.
Abbi’s reaction to Walmart’s response:
“Just received this comment on my post from Vestal Walmart. They explain they support a breastfeeding mothers choice to breastfeed and have a policy for nursing mothers, but never once apologize for not following it. Or state that anything will be done at that store to solve this problem.”
Note that Walmart defines the issue as a personal issue rather than what it is–a legal issue and a case of a mother’s civil rights being violated due in inadequate education of management and employees.
Julie Boerst also posts to the Vestal, NY Walmart page:
While the initial response is encouraging, it’s also vague and fails to recognize breastfeeding as a legal rather than a personal issue when a mother’s civil rights are being violated. Julie send a personal message to Micah to try to clarify what the Walmart breastfeeding policy is and to state that moms want to work with Walmart.
December 26, 2014
Local mom Katelyn (who prefers not to use her last name) is asked to move in Walmart when nursing publicly, is followed around the store, and eventually ends up in her cold car to nurse a 17-day-old newborn. She posts on Facebook about her experience. Abbi Bennett-Juhl, a friend who has also experienced Walmart’s lack of familiarity with NYS public breastfeeding law, starts a nurse-in page on Facebook.
We send out this press release to local media:
Local Moms Educate Walmart About Mother, Baby & Child Rights
Vestal, NY – December 26, 2014 – Local moms, babies, and kids are delivering a heartfelt reminder to Walmart on Sunday, December 28, at 3pm. They want Walmart workers and shoppers to know that New York State protects the rights of mothers, babies, and children who breastfeed, and that it is illegal to ask women to stop feeding their children in public or to cover up. Furthermore, breastfeeding is specifically excluded from New York State laws against public exposure. If shoppers are personally offended, store staff may assist them in moving to another location and may inform them of New York State law, but they may not require mothers, babies, and children to stop breastfeeding or cover up.
Unfortunately, several local mothers have had to cope with Vestal Walmart’s lack of employee and management education on this clear-cut legal issue. Nurse-in organizer Abbi Bennett-Juhl explained why mothers and children are gathering at Walmart on Sunday afternoon. “We are holding a nurse-in at Walmart in Vestal, New York, because they have asked numerous breastfeeding mothers to cover up, go to the restroom/fitting room to nurse, or leave. This is against NYS law and violating a breastfeeding mother’s rights.”
In the most recent incident, Katelyn (who prefers not to share her last name), a mother of a newborn, was followed around the store on December 26 and instructed to nurse her baby in the restroom. She ended up outside in a cold car. Abbi Bennett-Juhl had a similar experience at Vestal Walmart. “I have personally nursed at the Vestal Walmart when my daughter was a few months old in her ring sling. I had a male employee approach me and ask if I could cover or use the fitting room to finish.”
Local moms are determined that this violation of NYS public breastfeeding law will not happen again at Vestal Walmart. Although New York State was the first state in the nation to pass laws protecting the rights of publicly breastfeeding mothers and babies, local retailers can still improve their manager and employee education on infant and child feeding in area stores. Here’s what all local retailers and their employees need to know:
1994 NY ALS 98; 1994 NY LAWS 98; 1994 NYSN 3999 79-e Right to Breast Feed. Right to breast feed. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a mother may breast feed her baby in any location, public or private, where the mother is otherwise authorized to be, irrespective of whether or not the nipple of the mother’s breast is covered during or incidental to the breast feeding.
Nicole Silvers plans to attend the nurse-in on Sunday. “I’m happy to show my support because our babies have the right to eat wherever they want without us being harassed. No mother deserves to be shamed, doing what our bodies were meant to do, on demand.”
After her ordeal today, Katelyn is heartened by this immediate show of support from local moms. “I just want to say that I am truly honored to be a part of such a wonderful group of women that have come together to stand up for our right to breastfeed however, wherever, and whenever, and that we as mothers should not be discriminated against because of however we choose to feed our babies. Breast or bottle, we are mothers doing what we need to for our children.”