I've never been pregnant, and I'm not making any plans to be. But Jewel McGarry is very pregnant -- about 7 1/2 months worth as you read this. As a result, she is embroiled in one of the silliest labor-management messes you've ever heard. The subject, believe it or not, is sweatpants.
Jewel is a letter carrier based out of the Reston post office. As winter started turning into spring, Jewel's midriff started turning into the familiar bowling ball. So she began showing up for work in a pair of dark gray sweatpants.
The pants were new when she started doing this -- not grungy like the "sweats" in my drawer or yours. Most important, the pants were comfortable -- always a major consideration for a mail carrier, and especially for a pregnant one.
But the bosses -- all male -- didn't see it that way.
Gordon Kesecker, manager of the Reston branch, ordered Jewel to wear slacks, culottes or "appropriate" shorts instead. She refused, so Kesecker put a formal letter of warning into her file and threatened to send her home without pay the next time she showed up in "sweats."
Jewel immediately filed a grievance with her union, the National Association of Letter Carriers, and an equal employment opportunity protest with the Postal Service. Both are pending.
Management's position is that a letter carrier has an image to uphold.
"We are running a business and she is a customer service representative," said Gerald F. Merna, section center manager for all the post offices in Northern Virginia. "Even though she is pregnant, she has to wear suitable clothing. I'm sure it's the same in your job."
Jewel's position is that new gray sweatpants are respectable enough.
"I am being treated differently," she said. "Other people can wear what they want. Another woman in the office had a baby on April 2. She told me she wore blue sweatpants (while pregnant) . . . .I had a baby five years ago. It was the same postmaster. I wore the same exact clothing (sweatpants). It was acceptable then, and not now?"
Warmer weather seems to have resolved this issue before the grievance procedure could. Three weeks ago, Jewel began wearing blue shorts, a maternity top and sneakers to work. Management was satisfied with that, and Merna said her letter of warning has been rescinded.
But Jewel says she will nevertheless push for a national dress policy for pregnant carriers.
"If they were really interested in solving this, they would have decided on a dress code," she said. But the only "code" is the right of each postmaster to define "appropriate" maternity clothes.
I say that's for each woman to decide -- be she a butcher, baker, candlestick maker or letter carrier.
I say that if there's a female letter carrier who wants to walk 10 miles a day when she's 7 1/2 months pregnant, management ought to cherish her, not hinder her.
And I say that management is out to lunch if it thinks Jewel McGarry's sweatpants would offend anyone on her route. I'll bet she gets applause, and questions about the baby, not complaints.
It's a shame in one way that Jewel switched to shorts. She should have had the chance to fight this one to the finish. She should have won -- and I suspect she would have.