Despite employing mostly men, Jay-Mar of Plover says employee breastfeeding ‘fits with philosophy’ of company
By Kate Knight
When Melissa Rekowski learned she was pregnant last summer, she knew her life would change.
As a seasonal delivery driver for Jay-Mar in Plover, Rekowski drives a pickup truck with a trailer carrying six to eight-ton loads of spreaders with fertilizer to farms located in a two-hour driving radius of Jay-Mar’s fertilizer plant on Walnut Drive.
During her four-month work season, Rekowski makes deliveries from 6 AM – 6 PM, Monday through Saturday, putting in around 60 hours per week. She is one of only two women employees at the fertilizer plant.
During Rekowski’s off-season, she gave birth to her first son, Ashton. Through working with Portage County Health and Human Services’ Women, Infants and Children (WIC) Program, Rekowski learned about the benefits of breastfeeding her baby and knew it was what she wanted to do after he was born.
As she prepared to go back to work when baby Ashton was six weeks old, Rekowski worked with her employer to discuss her need to breastfeed her son throughout the workday. Although Jay-Mar’s busy summer season was about to be in full swing, Rekowski’s boss was more than willing to help meet her needs.
“Before I started working again this summer I asked if it was OK if I went home, and they were like, ‘absolutely,” Rekowski said. “They’ve been letting me come home three times or so a day to feed him.”
Ashton is now three months old, and Rekowski has been able to feed him three times a day between making her fertilizer deliveries. Working full-time while having the flexibility to go home and feed her baby is something she never imagined would be possible.
“It’s just really cool that they’re letting me feed him,” Rekowski said. “Jay-Mar is a really good company – that’s for sure. They are very family oriented – very friendly.”
Accommodating a breastfeeding employee is a relatively new territory for Jay-Mar. To her knowledge, Rekowski is the first employee who has voiced her need to breastfeed during the workday. But whether or not to accommodate Rekowski’s request was a no-brainer for the company’s CEO, Tony Grapsas.
“It all fits with our philosophy,” Grapsas said. “We want employees to have balance between work and personal lives – healthy kids and healthy lives – it fits with how we do things here.”
“Work will continue – you take care of what you need to, when you need to,” he added. Grapsas said Jay-Mar regularly allows its employees to attend their kids’ band concerts and athletic events, or take care of a sick family member.
“It makes for a happy workplace, and leaving for family is not going to affect an employee’s job security,” Grapsas said.
While Rekowski spends a majority of her day making deliveries on her own, she said the atmosphere at Jay-Mar’s fertilizer plant hasn’t changed since she came back to work this season.
“‘I gotta go do my thing’ – that’s all I tell them,” she said, laughing. “They don’t say anything or make any remarks. It’s been good.”
Aaron Schiller, Rekowski’s longtime boyfriend and Ashton’s father, is glad to see the mother of his son receiving support for her choice to breastfeed.
“It’s nice that a company like hers that is mostly men, too, enables them to want to live well,” Schiller said. “Your whole community is strengthened that much more – for an employer to do that is going above and beyond.”
Rekowski worked with Kristi Cooley, WIC and Nutrition Services Supervisor at Portage County Health and Human Services, during her pregnancy and in postpartum. The WIC program works in part to promote the benefits of breastfeeding to new moms.
“Melissa said she wanted to breastfeed,” Cooley explained. “She said she was going back to work and wasn’t sure how it would work because working would have an impact on her ability to breastfeed. Knowing the company, I encouraged her to have a conversation with her employer.”
“Work was really supportive with her,” Cooley added. “She could pump in her vehicle and could even go home [to breastfeed] – it was going well and what a great thing.”
Cooley said WIC’s purpose is to provide mothers the opportunity to receive good nutrition and education, referrals for quality care, assistance with shopping for food, and breastfeeding support. The WIC program also works with the Portage County Breastfeeding Coalition, to encourage employers to make breastfeeding resources available to new mothers.
“It’s about really encouraging women to have that conversation with their employers,” Cooley said. “Women can work with WIC or the coalition to work with an employer to make a suitable setting for breastfeeding.”
Cooley added that Jay-Mar has been a “great example” of how businesses can work with their employees to support breastfeeding mothers. “This highlights to other businesses out there that it can work.”
Rekowski realizes she is fortunate in being able to breastfeed her son at home while working fulltime. “So many women can’t do it, or they have to stay at home,” she said. “They usually can’t drive home, or they have to do it in a room at work.”
“I’m so grateful for Jay-Mar,” she added. “They are letting me make money and keep a roof over our heads, while allowing me to feed him, too, and be home when I can. Breastfeeding is the most healthy thing for my baby.”
Rekowski plans to continue breastfeeding Ashton for a year, and she encourages working new moms to talk with their employers about making accommodations for breastfeeding during the day.
“Talk to your employer, and make sure they understand your circumstances,” Rekowski said. “You just have to ask, and see if you can work something out – it is possible if it’s a topic.”
For more information on the WIC program or Portage County Breastfeeding Coalition, call 715-345-5350 or visit www.portagecountycan.org/breastfeeding.