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PolitiFact VA: Did Freitas Vote Against Protections for Pregnant Women?

Screenshot from ad
A new ad claims that Nick Freitas voted against workplace protections for pregnant women. (Photo: Screenshot of ad from United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters Vote! PAC)

Speaker: United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters Vote! PAC
Statement: Nick Freitas “voted to let businesses discriminate and fire expecting mothers for no other reason but their pregnancy. ”
Date: Sept. 15
Setting: TV ad

A large union is claiming Nick Freitas, the Republican candidate for the 7th Congressional District seat, has turned his back on working pregnant women.

“He voted to let businesses discriminate and fire expecting mothers for no other reason but their pregnancy,” says a TV ad by the United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters Vote! PAC.  

The ad began airing Sept. 15. It shows a doleful pregnant woman, who seemingly worked at a convenience store, hanging up her apron, dropping her name badge in a trash can, and walking out into the rain.

We fact checked the ad’s statement. The PAC says it’s based on Freitas’ vote on March 3 against successful legislation that gives job protections to pregnant women and new mothers working for small companies.

The bill - now law - bans the small companies from firing, denying promotion or otherwise discriminating against an employee solely because she is pregnant or has a condition related to her pregnancy. It requires employers to make “reasonable accommodations” for the worker, including seating, light duty assignments, leave to recover from childbirth, and a private place other than a bathroom to pump breast milk. Violators can be sued.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously. It cleared the House on a largely partisan vote. Although Republicans did not debate the bill or express objections, 38 of 45 GOP delegates - including Freitas - quietly voted against it.

After the ad hit TV, Freitas explained his vote during a Sept. 22 podcast. He said the bill was superfluous because federal law already protects pregnant workers from job discrimination.

“It’s already a law; you can’t fire someone because they are or can become pregnant. That’s sufficient,” he said. “Democrats were adding all this additional bureaucracy and all these rules on top of that.”

Freitas said he was concerned that the additional laws might discourage employers from hiring women. “I don’t want to put women at a competitive disadvantage,” said Freitas, who noted he was mostly reared by a single mother. “I want them to have these opportunities.”

Freitas is inaccurate, however, in saying the new state law merely bans what was already illegal. Federal law protects women against “pregnancy-based discrimination and harassment at work” only if they have jobs at companies with 15 or more employees. Virginia’s law offers protections to an additional group of women - those working at companies with 6-14 employees.

The group covered by the new state law is relatively small, but statistics are not available to exactly define it. The closest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show 14.9% of all Virginia workers in March were employed by companies with 5-19 employees. The data is not broken down by sex, age or the smaller 6-14 employee range covered by the law.

Our ruling:

The United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters PAC says in a TV ad that Freitas “voted to let businesses discriminate and fire expecting mothers for no other reason but their pregnancy. ”

Freitas voted against a bill - now a law - to bar small companies from firing or discriminating against an employee because she is pregnant or has a condition related to her pregnancy. But this was not a sweeping bill as the ad suggests by offering no other details.

The legislation protects pregnant workers at companies with 6-14 employees. The vast majority of women work for companies with 15 or more employees and were already protected by federal law. 

So the ad claim is accurate, but needs elaboration. We rate it Mostly True.

Sources

United Association of Union Plumbers and Pipefitters Vote! PAC, TV ad, Sept. 15, 2020.

Legislative Information System, HB 827, 2020 session. 

Nick Freitas, podcast comments, Sept. 22, 2020 (34:52 mark).

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, “Legal Rights of Pregnant Women Under Federal Law,” accessed Sept. 30, 2020.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Business Employment Dynamics,” Table F, 2019.

Email from Timothy Aylor, Senior economist at the Virginia Employment Commission, Oct. 1, 2020.

OpenSecrets.org, Plumbers/Pipefitters Union independent expenditures, accessed Sept. 25, 2020.