House hears popular
bills on minimum wage, sick leave
It's hard to find
legislative issues more popular across party lines than raising the minimum
wage and allowing all workers to earn paid sick leave. Both issues played
prominently in President Obama's State of the Union speech last week alongside
other proposals that poll through the roof (with the notable exception of
passing more NAFTA-like trade deals). The president's renewed populist message
has him earning his highest approval ratings in more than 18 months.
groundbreaking initiative that made our state the first to automatically
increase its minimum wage each year was approved by two-to-one margin, passing
on both sides of the mountains, in every county of the state. Although last
fall's record low voter turnout was a boon to Republicans across the nation,
minimum wage increases were once again big ballot winners. Conservative states
like Alaska, Arkansas, Nebraska and South Dakota all voted to increase theirs.
As for sick leave,
a 2014 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found
that 81 percent support paid sick leave legislation of the type Obama proposed
— allowing all full-time workers to earn at least 7 days per year. The
survey found majority support across all demographic and political groups,
with fully 70 percent of Republican voters saying they support such a law.
But more important
than simply being popular, these proposals are the right thing to do —
especially at a time of growing income inequality and stagnant wages.
was the message delivered Monday in the House Labor Committee
during testimony on HB
1355, sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle), to accelerate the
state's minimum wage increases so it reaches $12 an hour in four years, and HB
1356 from Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) to allow all workers to earn at
least 40 hours of paid time off per year. Both bills — which are part of the
Washington State Labor Council's Shared
Prosperity Agenda — have a remarkable number of sponsoring legislators:
43 in the House and 21 in the Senate.
employees, fast-food workers, and small business owners testified in support
of HB 1355 and HB 1356, saying it was the right thing to do and that the
benefits to businesses far outweigh any costs.
corporate lobbying groups testified against both proposals Monday, making the
usual arguments that "mandating" higher wages and better benefits harms
businesses. Never mind that their predictions of job loss and inflation never
In fact, there's
ample evidence that raising wages boosts the economy and helps businesses. For
a person working full-time at $10/hour, an increase to $12 would mean an extra
$347 per month to spend on rent, food, utilities, and other basic necessities.
That's not only a desperately needed boost for working families struggling to
survive, it's a boost for all the businesses in their community.
cities that have enacted a paid sick and safe leave standard have no
experienced job loss. Connecticut, the first state to enact a paid sick leave
law in 2012, has
experienced higher employment levels in key sectors covered by the law,
including hospitality and health services. A survey
of business owners there found that three-quarters of them supported the
law, a large majority experienced no or small increased cost, and benefits
included less spread of disease in the workplace, and higher morale.
People get these
issues. If you work full time, you shouldn't be forced to live in poverty. You
shouldn't be forced to choose between caring for a sick kid and putting food
on your table.
Over the years,
obfuscation by tassel-toed lobbyists — and the legislators who side with big
business groups over what the public clearly wants — has derailed these
proposals. Perhaps that's why progress always seems to come via initiative,
rather than through legislation. But as The Seattle Times reports,
some opponents are wary that they may be better off negotiating on these
issues now than facing an initiative that takes even more dramatic steps. And
will be sure to pass.
The WSLC strongly
urges the House Labor Committee to advance both measures. The
panel is scheduled to vote on Thursday.
wage theft, retaliation
employers do their best to pay workers lawfully — or quickly remedy pay
problems when they are identified — there are some businesses that simply do
not pay what is owed to their workers, even when presented with evidence
showing the shortfall. That is stealing, plain and simple. Even
worse, some employers will retaliate against workers who seek what they've
rightfully earned by cutting their hours, terminating employment, or
threatening immigration-related actions. This is immoral and unacceptable. It's
like having someone rob your home, reporting the crime to police, and having
the thieves retaliate by burning your house down.
there are few protections in state wage-and-hour laws to protect workers from
retaliation. That is why it is so important that the Legislature adopt HB
1354, sponsored by Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline), to grant administrative
and legal remedies to employees retaliated against for reporting violations of
minimum wage laws, prevailing wage laws. This bill was heard Monday in House
Labor and Commerce Committee.
Two more bills
related to wage theft were heard by the same committee on Tuesday:
1518, the Wage Recovery Act sponsored by Rep. Mia Gregerson (D-SeaTac),
would provide a path for victims of wage theft to be made whole, even if the
employer tries to hide assets by closing down one company, or reopening under
a new name. It will allow workers in all industries to use liens for all wages
owed, and provide deterrents for breaking the law by including interest,
penalties, and statutory damages. This legislation follows other state models
that allow workers to have their wages recovered through liens on personal and
1519, sponsored by Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane), would clarify which
workers classify as independent contractors. This will stop employers from
deliberately misclassifying employees as such in order to avoid paying taxes
and insurance premiums. This bill will ensure that businesses that play by the
rules aren't undercut by competitors that deliberately misclassify workers,
while protecting the independence of true independent contractors and sole
proprietors—like lawyers, doctors, real estate agents and home-based sales.
The WSLC urges
passage of all these important bills.
backs Equal Pay Opportunity Act
Cleveland (D-Vancouver) and Rep. Tana Senn (D-Mercer Island) are sponsoring
the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (SB
1846) to address income disparities, employer discrimination and
retaliation practices, and reaffirms Washington's longstanding pursuit of
equality in the workplace.
"Even today, women
are paid 80 cents for every dollar earned by men for similar work," said Rep.
Senn. "It's time to revisit this issue so we move quickly toward gender pay
equity in the workplace."
An estimated 40
percent of households in America rely on a woman as the leading or sole
breadwinner, but discriminatory income disparities limit women's ability to
sufficiently provide for their families. This disparity in pay leads to higher
rates of poverty among women and children.
SB 5630/HB 1846
will require employers to provide a valid reason, such as education, training,
or experience to validate disparities in pay. It will also permit workers to
discuss their pay without fear of retaliation from their employer. These
conversations will allow all employees to better understand their positions
and determine if they are indeed being paid unfairly.
Create good jobs, tackle climate change
In the wake of the
Great Recession, as our state and national economies sputter back to life,
there are two major threats to broadly shared prosperity: extreme income
inequality and disruptive climate change.
afternoon, the House Committee on Environment heard HB
1314 on implementing a carbon pollution market program to reduce
greenhouse gas emissions. This is part of Gov. Jay Inslee's ambitious proposal
to raise revenue for transportation, schools and other projects by levying
fees on the state's biggest polluters.
President Jeff Johnson, who serves on the Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy,
testified on the importance of not chasing jobs in carbon-intensive industries
out of Washington state, but rather incentivizing these industries to invest
in carbon reduction technologies while protecting family-wage jobs.
"We can tackle both
of these issues by tackling them together," Johnson said. "The transition to a
clean-energy based economy can create more family-wage union jobs and shared
prosperity, if we do it right."
The WSLC is aware
that specific unions have issues with HB 1314 as introduced and wants to work
with all of organized labor to address those concerns.
"The urgency of the
climate and equity challenges compel us to find common ground," Johnson said. "We
don't have the luxury of letting denial and division stand between us and the
solutions that our kids and grandchildren deserve. With a clear-headed,
pragmatic sense of determination and cooperation, we can create good jobs,
equity and climate solutions now."
legislative events Feb. 19-20
State Labor Council Legislative Reception will be Thursday, Feb. 19 from 6:30
to 8:30 pm at the Red Lion in Olympia. The following day, Friday, Feb. 20, we
will have its WSLC Lobby Day and rally on the Capitol steps. Get