OLYMPIA (Jan. 14, 2016) — The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO — the state’s largest union organization representing the interests of more than 600 labor organizations with more than 450,000 members — outlined its 2016 Shared Prosperity Agenda on Wednesday for the legislative session that began this week.
“Both the governor’s State of the State speech and the president’s State of the Union address yesterday identified the need to help hard-working people who are struggling to meet their basic needs,” said WSLC President Jeff Johnson (pictured above). “Every element of our Shared Prosperity Agenda includes policies to accomplish that and to make sure that working families are healthy and sustainable.”
Four issues in particular were outlined at Wednesday’s press briefing:
AEROSPACE TAX BREAK ACCOUNTABILITY — Chelsea Orvella, Legislative Director for the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace/IFPTE 2001, and Jon Holden, President of Machinists Union District Lodge 751, made the case for ensuring that the nation’s largest corporate tax break — the $8.7 billion Aerospace Tax Preference bill approved in November 2013 — meets its original intent to “maintain and grow Washington’s aerospace workforce” with good-paying jobs.
“Since these tax preferences were extended in 2013, an astonishing 4,057 Boeing jobs have left our state,” Orvella said (pictured above beside Holden). “This job loss is not cyclical. It’s because the company has decided to move those jobs out of state.”
“Other states have required employment guarantees and levels of capital investment in exchange for their incentives,” Holden said. “Those states are acting responsibly on behalf of their citizens for the tax incentives they grant. Our state needs to be responsible as well. We cannot emphasize enough that in exchange for the biggest tax incentive package in U.S. history, Washington state citizens must receive guaranteed numbers of jobs and wage standards.” (Read the rest of Holden’s comments at IAM 751’s blog.)
There may be renewed momentum for this effort given the Department of Revenue’s recent decision to more fully disclose the value of these tax breaks for Boeing and other aerospace companies.
LEGAL FINANCIAL OBLIGATIONS — ACLU Legislative Director Shankar Narayan discussed LFOs for people convicted of crimes — victim restitution, fines, prosecution costs, and other penalties — which accrue 12% interest in Washington, the highest rate in the nation. This creates a cycle of debt that prevents payment of the victims’ principal restitution, erects barriers to reentering society, and increases recidivism.
“We have a system that’s unfair and burdensome,” Narayan said. “It does not help rehabilitate people. It does not improve public safety. We are essentially running debtors’ prisons. We are punishing people for being poor.”
He said that in Benton County, more than 20 percent of inmates were there because they couldn’t afford to pay their LFOs.
The ACLU and WSLC support HB 1390, which passed the House 94-4 last year, to adopt common sense court fee reforms to help ex-offenders reintegrate in to society, and avoid re-imprisonment due to court debt.
Download a fact sheet on the LFO legislation.
DAIRY FARM SAFETY — Indira Trejo of the United Farm Workers explained that Washington’s dairy farm workers are routinely exposed to dangerous and deadly hazards, yet the industry is exempted from basic workplace health and safety standards.
“The workers who make Washington’s dairy industry so successful should not have to fear getting injured on a daily basis,” she said.
The UFW, WSLC and their allies support the Dairy Worker Safety Act (HB 2484), introduced this week by Rep. Brady Walkinshaw (D-Seattle), which would equip dairy employers, dairy workers, and the Dept. of Labor and Industries with the tools to prevent injuries and death in this growing industry.
Download a fact sheet on the Dairy Worker Safety Act.
MINIMUM WAGE / SICK LEAVE — WSLC Government Affairs Director Joe Kendo said that after three years of unsuccessfully pursuing legislation to raise the state minimum wage and to allow all workers to earn paid sick and safe leave in Olympia, a coalition of unions, faith-based organizations and community groups introduced a ballot initiative this week to accomplish those goals.
Given the opposition to these policies in the Republican-controlled Senate, Kendo said, “we decided to go directly to the people” who overwhelmingly support raising these labor standards, according to polls.
This session, the WSLC will be defending against legislative efforts to undermine the progress being made on minimum wage and paid sick leave at the city level. Last year, Republicans introduced legislation to preempt cities from enacting higher minimum wages or paid sick leave ordinances, such as those already approved in Seattle, SeaTac, Tacoma, and now Spokane. This year, they have already proposed allowing businesses to subtract the value of health care benefits and pay a sub-minimum wage.
There are many other bills and issues included in the WSLC’s 2016 Shared Prosperity Agenda, including:
TAX FAIRNESS — In addition to Aerospace Tax Break Accountability, the WSLC supports creating a Capital Gains Tax. As Washington suffers under the most regressive tax system in the nation, and as the demands of the McCleary decision will require additional revenue, the Legislature should meet its obligations to our students by taxing wealth, not wages.
STABLE AND SECURE JOBS — In addition to supporting the minimum wage and paid sick leave initiative and the Dairy Worker Safety Act described above, the WSLC supports legislation to:
Stop Wage Theft — Washington needs to prevent workplace fraud and tax evasion by passing bills on Worker Misclassification (Riccelli 1519/Frockt 5566), Anti-Retaliation (Ryu 1354/Hasegawa 5569), Triple Damages (Sawyer 1006/Conway 5568), and Wage Recovery (Gregerson 1518/ Keiser 5567).
Promote Pay Equity — Incredibly, working women in Washington still experience wages unequal to their male counterparts. The Legislature should promote pay equity and discourage structural discrimination in the workplace.
Grant Paid Family Leave — (Robinson 1273) At some point in our lives, we all get sick, have children, or care for ailing family members. Paid family leave protects families from falling in to poverty when it comes time to take care of ourselves and our parents, siblings, children, and elders.
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE — In addition to the Legal Financial Obligations legislation described above, the WSLC supports legislation to:
Ban the Box — (Moscoso 1701) For those who have already paid their debt to society, checking the criminal history box on an application can be the biggest barrier to reintegrating in to society. By asking employers to consider applications prior to asking about criminal history, we can help reduce recidivism by giving reformed offenders an opportunity to move beyond their past mistakes.
Regulate Non-Compete Agreements — The Legislature should regulate the use of non-compete agreements that prevent workers from using their skills to secure better jobs to achieve their dreams.
OTHER PRIORITIES — The WSLC’s Shared Prosperity Agenda is a big picture vision developed by labor unions, faith organizations, social justice advocates, and community groups speaking with one voice. Together with our community allies, the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO will continue to:
Defend injured workers from attacks on the workers compensation program.
Promote strong workplace health and safety laws.
Prioritize education funding from cradle to career by fully funding early and primary education, making tuition affordable, supporting college faculty, and helping students reduce debt.
Fight for quality, affordable health care for all people in Washington.
Preserve women’s rights to make their own reproductive health choices, and fight against pregnancy discrimination.
Uphold apprenticeship as a pathway to stable and secure job opportunities.
Oppose predatory payday loans that exploit families experiencing poverty.
Advocate for dignified retirement programs for Washington’s senior citizens.
Strengthen Medicaid programs which support Washington’s retirees.
Create jobs through the development of much needed infrastructure.
Clean up our communities by supporting common sense environmental protections.
Support green energy investments and opportunities.
Champion fair tax and revenue policies that promote the creation of family wage jobs, and treat low income and middle class families equitably.
Secure the rights of public employees to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and safety standards.
Pursue compensation proposals to recruit and retain highly qualified state employees.
Invest in safe staffing levels at state hospitals to meet the needs of patients and the public.
Advocate for just treatment for immigrants and new Americans.
Promote voting rights and citizenship.
Guard the human rights of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender sisters and brothers.
Stand with communities of color in the fight against systematic, institutionalized racism on the job, and in our communities.
Prevent attacks on the courts that tip the scales of justice in favor of big corporations.
In addition to this Shared Prosperity Agenda, the WSLC will support a range of issues that address economic opportunity and justice, as well as legislation championed by its affiliated unions.
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