Minimum wage, paid
sick leave will get
Senate hearings but many others met with silence
Two key bills in
the Washington State Labor Council's Shared Prosperity Agenda -- raising the
minimum wage and granting paid sick leave -- will get hearings in the Senate
Labor and Commerce Committee at 1:30 p.m. on Monday, March 30. But those bills
are the exceptions.
important bills, including some that passed the House with bipartisan support,
are languishing in that committee with no votes or hearings planned. As the
clock continues to tick on the 2015 session, these policy bills face a cutoff
deadline of April Fools' Day to advance from committee, or they die.
It's up to Sen.
Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane), who chairs the Senate Commerce and Labor
Committee, to decide whether to allow fair hearings on these bills. To his
credit, he is allowing a hearing on the minimum wage and paid sick leave
bills, two bills that have earned a lot of press interest and momentum:
1355 raises the state minimum wage over four years to $12 an
hour. In 2015, full-time minimum wage workers here still earn less than
$20,000 per year. The minimum wage is supposed to assure “the maintenance of
the minimum standard of living necessary for health, efficiency, and general
well being of workers.” But families don't meet this standard with such low
pay and taxpayers end up subsidizing their poverty-wage employers because
their workers can't afford to meet their families' basic needs and require
public assistance for food, housing, and health care.
1356 allows all workers to earn paid sick leave to take care of
themselves or a loved one when they are sick. One million people in this state
lack paid sick leave and must make the cruel choice of working sick or losing
a day's wages. It endangers public health when cooks, servers, and health-care
workers expose others to their illnesses by working sick. Paid sick leave will
provide some economic stability to families who are at the margins, and will
promote good public health practices.
So these bills will
be heard at 1:30 p.m. on March 30 and all supporters are invited to come to
Olympia to find out what kind of hearings the bill get. Will Sen. Baumgartner
agree to a fair and open discussion on these important working family bills,
or will he stack the testimony with opponents, as has happened a few times in
his committee this session?
the sound… of silence
the meantime, what of the many other bills -- those that haven't received as
much publicity, but are nonetheless important legislation affecting many
Here are a few
examples of House-approved bills that have no hearings or committee votes
scheduled in Sen. Baumgartner's Commerce and Labor Committee as of today:
1646, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act sponsored by Rep. Tara Senn
(D-Mercer Island), would update our state's 1943 equal pay law to ensure that
employees are able to openly discuss and inquire about their wages without
fear of retaliation. This kind of pay transparency is a vital step toward
ensuring that the persistent gender wage gap is finally closed. The bill has
bipartisan sponsorship, got a bipartisan vote out of committee, and a
bipartisan vote off the House floor. In the spirit of breaking through
political gridlock in Olympia, this bill should be heard and voted out of the
Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
1863, sponsored by Rep. Chris Reykdal (D-Olympia), would allow
community and technical colleges to use local funds to fulfill the bargaining
agreements negotiated with their faculty. The state's share of higher
education funding has reduced in recent years, only under current law only
state funds can be used for faculty pay and not local funds like tuition. As a
result, not only has it been six years since college faculty have received a
cost-of-living pay adjustment, they haven't even gotten step increases on
their salary during that period. HB 1863 would fix that by creating a shared
responsibility between the colleges and the state for investing in both part-
and full-time faculty. More than that, it will create a fair, stable, and
accountable funding stream. The House passed HB 1863 on a 64-34 vote, with 13
House Republicans joining to vote for its passage. But to date, the bill is
languishing in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee.
1732, also sponsored by Rep. Reykdal, would ensure that
nurses and certain other health care employees can get uninterrupted meal and
rest breaks, and prohibit mandatory overtime for certain health care
employees. This is important for the safety of both health care workers and
their patients. It passed the House and awaits action in Baumgartner's
Like the minimum
wage and paid sick leave proposals, these bills have until Wednesday, April 1
to advance from the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. The Washington State
Labor Council urges fair hearings and votes for all of them.
most unfair tax system:
Washington can, must do better
This month, many
state legislators had town hall meetings in their home districts and reports
indicate that quite of few of them got an earful about the budget, about
Washington's unfair tax system, and about the need for a more stable revenue
lacks the revenue to adequately maintain its most basic services and is under
court order to improve funding of basic education, mental health services, and
some other functions of state government.
This is because our
state has the most unfair and unstable revenue system in the nation. Worse
than Texas. Worse than South Dakota. Worse than Mississippi. Worse than
Florida. In Washington, the wealthiest among us pay just 2% of their
incomes in taxes, while middle-class families pay 10% and low-income families
pay up to 17% of their earnings on taxes. Meanwhile, huge profitable
corporations get billions in special tax exemptions each year, while the state's
small businesses pay more.
Lack of revenue
combined with the recession has resulted in $12 billion in cuts and chronic
underfunding that hurt everyone from schoolchildren to our seniors. As our
population has increased, state services have diminished. We face rapidly
growing needs that cannot be met without new revenue.
That's why the
Washington State Labor Council is a part of Washington United for Fair Revenue
a grassroots campaign of more than 100 organizations working to adopt a fair,
accountable and shared revenue system with stable and sufficient revenues.
We are urging legislators to ask wealthier households and corporations to pay
their fair share so we can fully fund schools, expand health care, repair our
infrastructure, create jobs, and build an economy that works for all of us.
Learn more at FairWArevenue.org.
rob pensions to balance budget
way to make our state revenue system even more unfair than it already is would
be to try to balance the budget on the backs of state employees by eroding
Washington's healthy public retirement system.
Two bad pension
bills sponsored by Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia) have surfaced that propose to
dig our state out of its multi-billion dollar budget deficit by paying for
much of that shortfall directly from state employee pension benefits. On
Tuesday, March 24, the Senate Ways and Means Committee will hold hearings on:
5982 to raise the normal retirement age across all public pension
systems by two years. (It would not apply to PERS 1, which closed to new
enrollees in 1977). State workers who could now retire at age 65 without
penalty would have to wait until they are 67. This would cost future retirees
an estimated $3 billion over 25 years, according to the fiscal note.
6005 would set the maximum pension contribution no higher than
the state average annual wage. The cost to future retirees is an estimated
$8.7 billion between 2015 and 2040.
The bills are
prospective, only applying to new hires, but they still harm current employees
and retirees. They erode the overall financial health of Washington's public
retirement system, the fourth best-managed pension fund in the nation. There's
a reason our state hasn't faced problems that have happened in places like
Chicago or Detroit.
These bills cut
more than $11 billion from the pension system over the next 25 years. That
means the state pays less money from the state General Fund for employee
benefits -- money that would then be diverted to cover the budget shortfalls
on education and mental health. In other words, supporters of these bad
pension schemes think public servants should foot the bill instead of closing
the billions in tax loopholes or considering other revenue options.
employees' pension benefits to pay for the Legislature's inability to meet its
other obligations isn't right and it isn't fair.