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WSLC Legislative Update: Fighting wage theft is pro-business

But GOP, corporate lobbying groups are fighting to protect the scofflaws



Today’s edition of the WSLC Legislative Update newsletter:

OLYMPIA (Feb. 20, 2014) — As a business owner, if you had a competitor underbid you by illegally withholding employees’ wages or by cheating to avoid the taxes you have to pay, you’d be pretty angry, right? Then, how does it feel to have Republican legislators and business lobbying groups more focused on protecting your scofflaw competitor from scrutiny and punishment than fighting to level the playing field for you and other honest employers?

As reported in The Stand earlier this week, the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives has passed four bills designed to discourage wage theft, level the playing field for honest employers, and recover state revenue lost due to the deliberate misclassification of workers as independent contractors. The bills passed largely on party-line votes with every House Republican voting no on all for bills.

“We thank the House members who supported these important bills and urge the Senate to take an equally strong stand against wage theft this session,” said Jeff Johnson, President of the Washington State Labor Council. “This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is about making sure that people get paid what they’ve earned and making sure that responsible employers aren’t undermined by unscrupulous competitors that cheat the system. We should all be able to support those objectives.”

wage-theft-construction2But clearly, House Republicans and the state’s largest corporate lobbying group, the Association of Washington Business, don’t support those objectives. In the AWB’s latest newsletter, it calls the bills “a set of heavy new employer mandates… because of the major burden they place on job creators.” This rhetoric was dutifully repeated by Republicans during floor debate on the bills.

How exactly does increasing the penalty for illegally withholding workers’ wages (HB 2332) create a “burden” for anyone other than dishonest businesses? How does clarifying the definition of independent contractors (HB 2334) harm any legitimate business? Unless you are deliberately exploiting your employees to avoid paying for their workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance — and thus raising those costs for all other employers – -you aren’t affected.

Why do the GOP and AWB seem more interested in protecting scofflaws than leveling the playing field for all businesses? The answer is that they oppose government intervention in the private sector. They wage an ideological fight against all regulation, whether it’s intended to protect workers, consumers, the environment or, yes, even other businesses.

The same AWB newsletter decrying the wage theft bills touts a new survey reporting that people trust businesses (58 percent) far more than government (37 percent). They don’t mention that only college-educated, high-income folks “who read or watch business/news media at least several times a week” were surveyed. They also don’t tell you that, even among this pro-business population, large majorities favor more government regulation of business. In many industries, they favored more regulation by an astounding 3-to-1 margin.

It should be considered pro-business to discourage illegal behavior by bad actors in the business community. Instead, Republican legislators and others who proclaim themselves champions of business reflexively oppose such regulation using right-wing anti-government rhetoric about “mandates” and “burdens on job creators.”

That’s unfortunate for Washington’s working families who simply want to be paid what they have lawfully earned. House Democrats are to be commended for standing up and doing the right thing not only for these workers, but also for the vast majority of businesses in this state that play by the rules.


DREAM Act sent to governor’s desk


The House’s DREAM Act has become the Senate’s “Real Hope Act.” Whatever you want to call it, legislation has now passed both houses that allows all high school graduates in Washington, including the sons and daughters of immigrants, to compete for state-based financial aid to pursue their dreams for higher education. This labor-backed bill is now on the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee, who supports it and plans to sign it into law.

wa-state-dream-act_frontThe House passed HB 1817, sponsored by Rep. Zack Hudgins (D-Tukwila), in a 71-23 vote on the session’s first day back on Jan. 13. But its fate was far from certain in the Republican-controlled Senate where the bill was killed last year after passing the House with a similarly strong bipartisan majority.

This year, rather than vote on HB 1817, the Senate decided to pass a nearly identical bill, SB 6523, dubbed the Real Hope Act. It passed 35-10 on Jan. 31. The House then approved the Senate version on Tuesday by a 75-22 vote.

“A policy like this is good for the students, it’s the right thing to do for young people, it’s the right thing to do for our communities, and it’s good for our economy,” Hudgins said following the bill’s passage.


House approves pro-worker bills


In addition to the aforementioned bills fighting wage theft, the Democratic-controlled House has passed several other pro-working family bills. Here are some of the key House-approved bills that the WSLC is urging the Republican-controlled Senate to vote upon before the March 7 deadline for policy bills:

PAID SAFE AND SICK LEAVEHB 1313 (prime sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins) would require businesses with at least five employees to allow their employees to earn and accumulate some paid sick leave over time. It passed 52-45 on Jan. 29 and is now in Senate Commerce and Labor.

COLLEGE BOARD EXPERTISEHB 1536 (Rep. Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor) would bring some front-line expertise to the boards of trustees for community and technical colleges by requiring that at least one member of these boards be from labor and one from business, codifying a practice that already exists for many of these boards. It passed 58-39 on Jan. 22 and is now in Senate Higher Education.

CERTIFIED PAYROLLHB 2331 (Rep. Mike Sells, D-Everett) would enable workers on public construction projects to confirm they are being lawfully paid their prevailing wage by requiring contractors to post timely certified payroll reports. It passed 54-44 on Feb. 13 and is scheduled for a hearing Friday, Feb. 21 in Senate Commerce and Labor.

TRIPLE DAMAGESHB 2332 (Rep. David Sawyer, D-Tacoma) would discourage wage theft by making employers liable for triple damages, rather than double, in a civil action. It passed 53-45 on Feb. 11 and is now in Senate Commerce and Labor.

WAGE THEFT RETALIATIONHB 2333 (Rep. Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline) would establish criminal penalties for employers who retaliate against workers who seek their rightfully earned wages. Today, victims of wage theft often don’t seek their earned pay due to the threat their hours will be cut, they will be fired, or they will face some immigration-related action initiated by the employer. It passed 53-45 on Feb. 13 and is now in Senate Commerce and Labor.

WORKPLACE FRAUDHB 2334 (Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane) would address the workplace fraud of misclassifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying taxes and premiums for workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance. It would establish a simple, 3-part test — one used in other states — to make it clear who is a traditional employee and who is a bonafide independent contractor. It passed 51-45 on Feb. 14 and is now in Senate Commerce and Labor.

ELECTRICIAN CERTIFICATIONHB 2500 (Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Olympia) would promote apprenticeship and improve worker and public safety by requiring completion of an apprenticeship program to receive a journey-level or residential specialty electrician certificate of competency. It passed 54-40 on Feb. 7 and is now in Senate Commerce and Labor.

COLLECTIVELY BARGAINED PREVAILING WAGEHB 2527 (Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane) would establish collectively bargained wage rates and benefits — as agreed to by employers and unions in the trades and industries that have such agreements—to be the prevailing wage rates and benefits for public works projects. It passed 59-37 on Feb. 17 and is now in Senate Commerce and Labor.

FEDERAL BASIC HEALTHHB 2594 (Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane) creates a blueprint for a Federal Basic Health Plan Option under the Affordable Care Act. Adding this option would build on the 20-year success of our state’s innovative Basic Health Plan and allow low-income adults who might not be eligible for Medicaid to purchase affordable coverage. It passed 54-43 on Feb. 17 and is now in Senate Health Care.


Senate approves anti-worker bills


Many of the Republican-controlled Senate’s aggressively anti-worker bills decried by the WSLC missed cutoff and are now dead. Among the labor-opposed bills that survived were:

RETROSB 5112 (Sen. Janéa Holmquist-Newbry, R-Moses Lake) allows Retrospective Rating groups to claim larger rebates by rushing injured workers through the medical examination and vocational assessment processes. It passed 26-22 on Feb. 17 and is now in House Labor.

WORKERS’ COMP BUYOUTSSB 5127 (Holmquist-Newbry) Exposes injured workers of all ages to “compromises” that settle their workers’ comp claims for pennies on the dollar. It passed 27-22 on Jan. 29 and is now in House Labor.

“GOOD FAITH” DEFENSESB 5158 (Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia) creating a “good-faith” defense for employers that fail to pay minimum or overtime wages. It passed 25-23 on Feb. 17 and is now in House Labor.

WORKERS’ COMP SELF-INSURANCESB 6179 (Braun) increases the risk of insolvency and threatens small businesses during periods of default. It passed 26-23 on Feb. 14 and is now in House Labor.

CHECK OUT THE UNION DIFFERENCE in Washington: higher wages, affordable health and dental care, job and retirement security.

FIND OUT HOW TO JOIN TOGETHER with your co-workers to negotiate for better wages, benefits, and a voice at work. Or go ahead and contact a union organizer today!