House passes Paid Sick Days, Senate targets workers’ comp

Following is today’s edition of the WSLC Legislative Update newsletter:

Washington would join Connecticut, several cities with similar standards


OLYMPIA (Jan. 30, 2014) — The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on Wednesday approved legislation that would make Washington the second state to establish a paid safe and sick leave standard. HB 1313, which passed 52-45 mostly along party lines, would require businesses with at least five employees to allow their employees to earn and accumulate some paid sick leave over time.

An estimated one million workers in Washington do not have access to paid sick days. Many of them work in the restaurants, grocery stores, medical centers and other service-oriented jobs that involve interacting with the public. When they are sick, they have to go to work anyway, or they will lose wages — and perhaps even their job.

“No working family should be forced to leave a sick child at home or go to work with the flu for fear of losing their paycheck,” said HB 1313 sponsor Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma). “Today’s paid sick days bill means they won’t have to.”

The bill is strongly supported by the Washington Work and Family Coalition, which includes the Washington State Labor Council and many other labor and community organizations.

House Republicans aggressively opposed the measure.

“It’s none of our business. It’s between the employee and the employer,” said Rep. Brad Klippert (R-Kennewick).

“It is not our job in the State Legislature to out-Kshama Kshama Sawant,” said Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg), referring to the new Socialist Seattle City Councilmember. The City Council approved a Seattle paid sick leave ordinance in 2011 — before Sawant was elected.

Republicans also unsuccessfully sought to amend HB 1313 to exempt businesses, weaken enforcement provisions, and grant tax breaks to employers that provide paid sick leave.

“If we’re going to stick a stake through the heart of business, it might as well not be small business,” said Brandon Vick (R-Felida), in support of a failed amendment to exempt businesses with fewer than 50 employees. The amendment would have exempted nearly half a million workers.

The idea that allowing people to address their health needs, or their family’s, or to cope with the consequences of domestic abuse without losing a day’s wages would “stick a stake through the heart of business” is absurd. It is a right that workers have in every industrialized nation on the planet, except in America.

Connecticut made history in 2011 as the first state to enact such a standard. A survey of 251 employers in that state was released earlier this month and it found that the law has had minimal effect on businesses: “A large majority of them reported that the law did not affect business operations and that they had no or only small increases in costs. Businesses most frequently covered absent workers by assigning the work to other employees, a solution which has little effect on costs. Just 10 percent of employers reported that the law caused their costs to increase by 3 percent or more.”

Meanwhile, Connecticut employers reported decreases in the spread of illnesses and increases in morale, among other effects, leading the report’s authors to conclude that the paid sick leave standard has been good for business.

Regardless, there’s no question it will be good for public health and for the one million workers in Washington who must choose between sacrificing their pay and attending to their or their family’s medical needs. Perhaps that’s why polls show that overwhelming majorities of Americans — including those who self-identify as Republicans — support requiring employers to offer some level of paid sick leave.

The WSLC thanks the House Democrats who voted in support of HB 1313 and strongly urges the State Senate to vote on the measure and show the state whether they agree or disagree with a paid safe and sick leave standard.


Senate pushes workers’ comp buyouts


Also on Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate passed SB 5127 to expand lump-sum buyouts of workers’ compensation claims. The vote was 27-22 with Sens. Rodney Tom (MCC-Medina), Tim Sheldon (MCC-Potlatch), and Jim Hargrove (D-Hoquiam) siding with all 24 Republicans in voting yes. Some Democratic senators who supported the bill last year voted no this time due to the extreme nature of the final bill.

Known as “structured settlements,” these buyouts are intended to save the state-run system money, but they only do so if workers agree to accept less than they would otherwise receive in benefits over time. Buyouts are strongly opposed by the WSLC and other advocates for injured workers because employers negotiate these settlements during times of financial desperation — when families have lost their income and are likely to be facing extreme hardship. Struggling families — especially those of younger workers — that can’t anticipate their future expenses may agree to buyouts that aren’t in their long-term best interests.

In fact, SB 5127 would specifically ban state regulators from considering the certain workers’ “best interests” when approving the buyouts. The bill would also remove all age restrictions on the buyouts, which are currently limited to workers 55 years and older.


Inslee wants action on education funding


On Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced his proposal to close several tax breaks in order to boost education funding by $200 million in the supplemental budget. Specifically, the governor proposed improving funding for school supplies and granting teachers their first cost-of-living adjustment in six years. The Legislature’s suspension of a voter-mandated teacher COLAs has caused teacher pay to erode in value by an estimated 15%.

To pay for it, the governor would close several tax loopholes, including eliminating the sales tax exemptions for shoppers from Oregon and other states that have no sales tax and repealing the sales tax exemption for bottled water.

In its McCleary decision, the State Supreme Court ruled that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation to adequately fund basic education.

“Our constitution makes clear that education is this state’s paramount duty,” Inslee said. “What’s missing is action, follow through, making good on our commitment. What’s missing is funding. Today I am presenting a plan that puts us on the path to meet our moral obligation to our children and our legal obligation to our constitution.”

Although education spending was increased in the biennial budget approved last year, the Supreme Court turned up the heat earlier this month, telling the Legislature to do more. The court called for “immediate, concrete action” to address decades of underfunding, including specifically for school supplies and teacher COLAs, or risk being found in contempt.

House Republicans responded angrily this week. More than half the caucus signed a letter disputing the court’s authority to either find them in contempt or to “decide what an adequate spending level will be to satisfy the constitutional declaration that education is ‘the paramount duty of the state’.” The letter extensively quotes a minority opinion in the McCleary case, suggesting that Republicans have decided they have the right to ignore the majority of the court.

Over in the Senate, GOP budget chairman Andy Hill (R-Redmond), told KPLU that tax breaks are hard to close, especially in a 60-day, election year session: “It has to be done very carefully, very thoughtfully and that’s something that’s very hard to do in a short session.”

Democrats dispute that notion. Senate Democratic Leader Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island) and House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) released a statement saying: “We agree with the governor that something must be done this year — and every year — until we finally fulfill our obligation to Washington’s kids. A short session is no excuse for not doing our constitutional duty.”


Also this week in The Stand


Previously this week at The Stand:

Labor backs bill to raise state minimum wage to $12 — Surrounded by supporters representing labor, small business, community and religious organizations, state Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) and 32 other House Democrats introduced a HB 2672 today that will raise the state minimum wage for adults to $12 an hour over the next three years and then resume annual increases to adjust for inflation. Read more.

Senate Republicans take a hard right turn — Senate Republicans this week demoted a Democratic committee chairman and pushed two anti-worker bills written by the corporate “bill mill” the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). One would create new administrative reporting burdens for all public employee unions and the other would ban cities and counties from enacting employment standards like paid sick leave in Seattle and the $15 minimum wage in SeaTac. Read more.


See you next week at the conference


The 2014 Washington State Labor Council Legislative Reception and Conference on Feb. 6-7 is getting a makeover that will allow participants to get more hands-on experience at the Capitol and face-to-face contact with the lawmakers and the legislative process. Union leaders, staffers and rank-and-file members of WSLC-affiliated unions are invited and encouraged to attend. Learn more here.


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