Friday, the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee chaired by Rep. Mike
Sells (D-Everett) amended HB 1091, the governor's initial proposal for changes
to the state Unemployment Insurance system, to balance proposed business tax
cuts with a children's benefit to help families struggling with unemployment.
supported by the United for Washington Families coalition of community and labor
groups, is a win-win-win to help families, businesses and the economy, which are
all suffering right now.
backs balanced approach on U.I.
United for Washington
Families, a coalition supporting the balanced approach of a U.I. tax cut
coupled with a children's benefit, continues to grow and now includes:
Children's Home Society
Welfare Advocates Group
of the National Ass'n of Social Workers
Lutheran Public Policy Office
Unemployment Law Project
for Women (Washington chapter)
Main Street Alliance of Washington
Puget Sound Alliance
State Labor Council, AFL-CIO
of State Employees, AFSCME Council 28
Washington State Nurses
Machinists District 751
United Food and Commercial
Workers Local 21
Washington Education Association
Building & Construction Trades Council
Service Employees International Union
Locals 775NW and 1199NW
and Technical Employees Local 17
and various other local
unions of UFCW; IBEW; IUOE; SMWIA; UAW; AWPPW; and others
The Washington State
Labor Council congratulates and thanks Rep. Sells and the other Democratic
members of that committee, all of whom voted to advance the improved HB 1091:
Reps. Chris Reykdal (D-Olympia), Tami Green (D-Lakewood), Phyllis Gutierrez
Kenney (D-Seattle), Mark Miloscia (D-Federal Way), Jim Moeller (D-Vancouver),
Timm Ormsby (D-Spokane), and Mary Helen Roberts (D-Edmonds). In the face of
opposition from business lobbying groups, none of the Republicans on the
committee supported the amendment.
committee action, the National Federation of Independent Business tweeted that
the amendment's passage was a "poison pill." In shareholder-speak, a
poison pill is a defensive reaction taken by a company to avoid a hostile
takeover by a corporate raider. So in this metaphor, are we to understand that
the NFIB is the corporate raider and legislators are defending the U.I. system
from takeover?! Hmm.
What's clear is that
business lobbyists, who have already testified that they consider the $2 billion
in the U.I. reserves to be employers' money, consider the coupling of a
$15/child per week benefit with their tax break to be a deal-breaker.
the amended HB 1091, the Employment Security Department estimates businesses
would get $295 million in tax cuts between 2011 and 2017, and the 167,000 people
who receive the children's benefit will get $202 million. And nearly half of the
benefit's cost is paid for by $98 million in federal incentive funds. So HB 1091
actually spends almost $3 in U.I. Trust Fund reserves on tax cuts for every $1
spent on benefits. It's difficult to understand why this modest proposal to help
struggling families at the same time we help businesses should be considered a
deal-breaker. It shouldn't.
We call on all State
Representatives and Senators on both sides of the aisle to reject reflexive
opposition to U.I. benefits. Embrace HB 1091 as your opportunity to demonstrate
compassion not just for corporations and small business owners, but for the
families desperately struggling to keep food on the table and a roof over their
heads. Amid this session's heartbreaking budget cuts to social services,
these families need help now more than ever. Don't pass up this opportunity to demonstrate that compassion.
Check out the United
for Washington Families fact sheet on this proposal for more
Republican attacks on unions begin
So much for the
spirit of bipartisanship and civility that prevailed at the session's opening.
Now that bills are being introduced, it's clear that some legislators blame
unions, not Wall Street, for what ails the nation's economy. And they plan to
fix it (us, that is):
-- "Right-to-Work" --
Discouraging unions by banning union-security clauses. Sponsors: Sens. Dan
Swecker (R-Rochester), Jim Honeyford (R-Sunnyside) and Mike Hewitt (R-Walla
-- Bans collective bargaining for state employees -- Sponsors: Sens.
Honeyford, Swecker, Hewitt and Bob Morton (R-Kettle Falls).
SB 5345 --
Blocks bargaining over the contracting out of state services --
Sponsors: Sens. Swecker, Honeyford, Hewitt and Doug Erickson (R-Ferndale).
That's just a taste;
there are more. These bills have little chance of passage in the
Democratic-controlled Legislature, but they offer a glimpse of what our state
might look like if anti-union Republicans took control -- and a glimpse of the
right-wing extremism that's alienating voters and keeping them in the minority.
Back to the
drawing board on workers' comp
groups and other proponents of last fall's Initiative 1082 to privatize workers'
compensation spewed a laundry list of accusations about the high costs and
inefficiencies of our public state-run system. Washington is one of the only
states with a "government-run monopoly," they said, implying we were
outliers that needed to get with the privatization and deregulation program.
the end, voters decided to keep our public system public, rather than hand it
over to the insurance industry (which is renowned for its low costs and
efficiency. Chyeah. Right.)
I-1082 was resoundingly rejected by a margin of more than 18 points.
But unlike failed tax
initiatives that are treated with solemn deference and finality by state
lawmakers, it's back to the drawing board in 2011 for business-backed
legislative efforts to deregulate, partially privatize and cut business costs
associated with our workers' compensation system.
Look. No one,
including organized labor, thinks our state system is perfect. But we do think
it's a model system compared to what passes for workers' compensation in other
states. That's because great care has always been taken in measuring the
benefits of cost-cutting proposals against how they affect injured workers and
One of our state's
challenges is the rising cost of injured workers on long-term disability.
Pension rates have gone up and, as Gov. Gregoire points out, those 8% of the
claims are responsible for about 85% of the system's costs.
Any day, Gregoire is
scheduled to release her initial proposal for workers' compensation changes.
We're told it includes quite a few good ideas, including some that organized
labor can support. But we're also told it includes at least one idea that we
"Unlike 44 other
states, Washington doesn't allow voluntary settlement agreements,"
complains Association of Washington Business President Don Brunell in his latest
column timed to coincide with the release of Gregoire's proposed legislation.
Why's Brunell gettin' all 2010 on us with the Washington Is An Outlier talking
point? And what's a voluntary settlement whatsit?
We call it
"starve-and-settle." This would allow employers to be absolved of all
current and future claims against them in exchange for a lump-sum payment to an
injured worker. In states that allow this, employers routinely appeal claims and
drag out the process so financial pressures mount for injured workers’
families who have lost their source of income. After this lengthy
claims-and-appeal process, a lump-sum settlement becomes difficult to resist for
desperate families, even if it won’t cover their future medical costs, which
are difficult to anticipate.
cuts costs simply by paying workers less than what they'd otherwise be entitled
to. That is not in their best interest, or the state's.
A University of
Washington study found that the best way to reduce long-term disability and
pension rates is a combination of return-to-work incentives, comprehensive
vocational retraining, and effective medical care. Injured workers getting
medical treatment at a Center of Occupational Health Excellence return to work
sooner, saving employers money. Pension incidence is reduced by 55% for those
workers who receive treatment at COHEs. That's why the WSLC supports legislation
to expand the availability of COHEs. That would address the problem, not just
Look for much more
detail on the governor's workers' compensation proposal in the coming weeks.
frustration hits Washington
Congress' inability to pass comprehensive immigration reform, many states are
trying to take the matter into their own hands. It has led to controversial
measures in states like Arizona, forcing the federal courts to step in and
protect basic human rights.
could be next.
HB 1272, sponsored by
Rep. Bruce Chandler (R-Granger), would require the state Employment Security
Department to verify the immigration status of each worker referred for a job in
our state. Meanwhile, a ballot initiative (I-1122) was filed this month to
require the state to check immigration status before issuing public benefits or
a driver license, employers to check the status of all workers, and law
enforcement to check the status of all charged with felonies.
There are many
problems with these approaches.
government has found that the accuracy of its own system for electronically
verifying immigration status (called "E-verify") is unreliable and
"remains vulnerable to identity theft and employer fraud." The
system is also subject to long delays, especially if its inaccurate results
over the past decade have found that such regulations and employer sanctions
cause businesses to discriminate against people who "look or sound
foreign," and cause pervasive discrimination against all workers of
agencies have traditionally opposed being dragged into immigration
enforcement policies because it discourages immigrants—or people who fear
they will be mistaken as illegal immigrants—from reporting crimes.
We could go on and
on. Let it suffice to say that organized labor shares in the frustration over
Congress' inability to act on this issue, but Washington must resist the
temptation to enact state-level measures to address a federal problem. Such
measures would create new burdens on state agencies, create more layers of
administration, and ultimately, only serve to increase discrimination in our