OLYMPIA (Jan. 16, 2014) — The Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the state’s largest union organization representing the interests of about 400,000 rank-and-file members, announced its 2014 legislative agenda today. In contrast to the low expectations some legislators and media pundits have attempted to establish for the short 60-day session that began this week, the WSLC’s “Shared Prosperity Agenda to Rebuild the Middle Class” is an ambitious set of budget and policy goals that the council believes embraces the values of Washington’s working families.
“It is clear that gains from the economic recovery are not being shared by everyone in this state and income inequality has emerged as a priority issue in Washington and nationally,” said WSLC President Jeff Johnson. “This agenda takes concrete steps to address pressing issues and challenges being faced today by middle-class families, low-income workers, and all citizens who expect their state government to build and maintain strong schools, public services and safety nets.”
Below is a summary of the major budget and policy goals set forth in the WSLC’s 2014 legislative agenda. (Download a printable 2-page version.) In the coming days, the WSLC will be distributing much more information that makes the case for each of these priorities.
END WAGE AND REVENUE THEFT — A shocking number of workers are denied the wages they are owed for the work they perform. Unscrupulous employers pay less than what was agreed, force workers to perform duties off the clock, cheat state and local governments out of legally required taxes and insurance contributions, and sometimes, withhold pay all together. Taking effective steps to combat wage theft is simply the right thing to do. It will also put millions of dollars back into our economy, improve the fiscal health of our local communities, and put proper wages into the pockets of the working families who earned them. The Legislature can fight wage theft by passing four bills that:
- Address wage theft and employee misclassification
- Permit courts to triple damages for wage theft
- Implement electronic certified payroll
- Protect workers from retaliation
PASS PAID SICK DAYS — We all get sick. But not all of us can stay home when we are contagious. In cities and states without paid sick days standards, 2 of every 5 workers don’t earn a single day of paid sick leave. Many of them work on the front lines of public health and food safety — in restaurants, retail, and even health care.
Three out of four Americans, including strong majorities of Democrats and Republicans alike, say employers should be required to offer paid sick leave. That’s why a growing number of cities, including Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and New York City, are taking action to protect public health and approve minimum paid sick days standards so no one has to choose between their job and their family’s health.
Public health threats don’t stop at the city limits. A uniform statewide paid sick leave standard is needed to provide economic stability to Washington families, to promote good public health practices, and to ensure all employers compete on a level playing field.
CLOSE A.C.A. LOOPHOLES — Some big employers are exploiting the Affordable Care Act by shifting the cost of providing health coverage onto taxpayers. By deliberately cutting employee hours under the threshold for health requirements, these large companies dump low-wage employees onto Medicaid or force them to seek taxpayer-subsidized coverage through the state health exchange.
The Legislature should close this loophole that forces taxpayers to subsidize large companies. Big corporations shirking their responsibility to provide health coverage under the ACA should not be rewarded. Fining large employers that abuse the system could help fund state and local governments’ Medicaid costs and boost payments to the doctors and hospitals treating our communities’ poorest patients.
RAISE THE MINIMUM WAGE — During this period of growing income disparity, a greater proportion of the state’s work force is employed in low-wage jobs. Adding insult to economic injury, these workers are at higher risk for being victims of wage theft and are the most likely to be retaliated against when they try to pursue their rightful pay. According to the Alliance for a Just Society, a worker needs to earn at least $16.13 an hour to meet basic needs. That is why the Legislature should raise Washington’s minimum wage to at least $12 an hour, to be phased in over the next two years. Further, the Legislature should adopt strong anti-retaliation standards to ensure that workers aren’t punished for pursuing their rightful pay.
PASS A TRANSPORTATION PACKAGE — Washingtonians of all stripes came together in the 2013 session to develop a transportation package that would:
- Ensure Washington’s workforce the ability to get to work without wasting hours in congested traffic,
- Promote transportation options while maintaining our roads and ferries, and
- Create over 84,000 jobs in the coming decade.
This is the transportation investment Washington’s workers, families, and businesses need to remain competitive. As our population and economy grows, the Legislature must lay the groundwork to support supply chains, and ensure that local governments have the flexibility to respond to the transportation needs of their citizens. A broad coalition of business, labor, environmentalists, and social justice organizations support a balanced package that addresses needs for new roads, transit, biking and pedestrian infrastructure because it would help all of us.
The Legislature can improve the lives of the people of Washington and create the jobs necessary to drive our economy forward by passing a comprehensive, balanced transportation funding package. The key to success will be setting aside ideological “poison pills.” The legislature must focus on transportation solutions, not cutting wages, training opportunities, and environmental protection.
INVEST IN STATE JOBS TO STRENGTHEN OUR SAFETY NET — Because Washington relies heavily on consumer spending (sales taxes) for revenue, state employees and safety-net services were hit hard by the 2007-08 global recession. Since that time, even as the demand for services has rapidly grown, state employees have been forced to do much more for less. The state has not funded COLAs for state employees since 2008. Instead, most state employees have endured unpaid furloughs, a 3% temporary salary cut, and significantly higher out-of-pocket costs for health care and pension contributions.
State revenue is still falling behind what’s needed. The 2014 supplemental budget will require an additional $150 million just to maintain services at current levels.
The Legislature must acknowledge that budget cuts have gone too far. The first step to restoring and strengthening our safety-net services is to stop balancing the budget on the backs of the people who provide those services. State employees’ COLAs should be funded, their wages protected and their health care kept affordable.
FUND EDUCATION — The Legislature should fund education by fulfilling the promises made by Initiatives 728 and 732. The people of Washington have spoken, and they expect reasonable class sizes for students and fair pay for teachers. For too long the Legislature has ignored the clear will of voters by failing to fund the state government’s paramount duty: public education. Instead, our public schools have suffered under unacceptable teacher-student ratios and under-paid education professionals.
Meanwhile, our community and technical college faculty have not only been denied COLAs, but also the step pay increases they should earn for professional development and experience. That’s because the Legislature has not provided sufficient funding while blocking faculty from bargaining for better pay at the local level.
By finally funding these priorities, our elected officials can create thousands of good jobs, stop the erosion of professional educators’ pay, and foster a classroom environment where students have the attention they need to succeed.
IN ADDITION to this Shared Prosperity and Job Creation agenda, the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO will support a range of issues that address income inequality, economic opportunity, and tax fairness, as well as legislation championed by its affiliated unions.
Follow the progress of the WSLC agenda and get all the latest news from Washington’s 2014 legislative session at The Stand! Find out how.