Paid sick leave, minimum wage bills introduced
OLYMPIA (Jan. 20, 2015) — Last week, a bill-sponsorship event was held to celebrate the introduction of two historic bills that are part of the Washington State Labor Council’s Shared Prosperity Agenda: a paid sick and safe leave standard and a minimum wage increase. Lawmakers lined up to support the bills (see photo). In the end, both bills were introduced with a remarkable 43 representatives and 21 senators as sponsors.
“Getting sick shouldn’t mean getting fired,” Jinkins said. “You shouldn’t have to choose whether or not to stay home with a sick kid or put food on the table for your family. But that’s what’s happening today. One million Washington workers don’t have paid sick leave. It’s past time we give all workers the dignity and respect they and their families deserve.”
“Raising the minimum wage is about equality, strengthening families, and fundamental fairness,” said Jayapal. “It is about equality, because low wages disproportionately affect women and communities of color. It is about strengthening families, because low wages force people to get multiple jobs and work long hours in order to make ends meet. And it is about fairness. Everyone deserves to be paid honestly for honest work.”
We’ll have much more on these bills in coming weeks.
Some Republicans are sticking with ALEC
Several bills that will get hearings this week in Olympia are brought to you by anonymous corporate sponsors.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is a corporate-funded organization that pushes a right-wing agenda in state legislatures. Through ALEC, big companies can avoid putting their fingerprints on proposed bills that may be controversial or too obviously self-serving. An investigation of ALEC by The New York Times found that “corporate interests effectively turn ALEC’s lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points and signaling how they should vote.”
ALEC is a “corporate bill mill,” says the ALEC Exposed website posted by the Center for Media and Democracy. “It is not just a lobby or a front group; it is much more powerful than that. Through ALEC, corporations hand state legislators their wishlists to benefit their bottom line. Corporations fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. They pay for a seat on ALEC task forces where corporate lobbyists and special interest reps vote with elected officials to approve ‘model’ bills.”
Participating legislators are quick to point out that other interest groups and their lobbyists routinely assist in the drafting of legislation. But ALEC has gained national notoriety for introducing controversial bills like its Stand Your Ground law used in Florida to defend the killer of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin in 2012. As a result, major corporations have begun dropping out of ALEC. For example, Microsoft recently quit ALEC reportedly because of its lobbying against renewable energy.
But Republican legislators in Washington aren’t dropping out. If this week’s hearing schedule is any indication, some of them are doubling down on their push for ALEC’s model bills, especially if they attack unions.
Pushing ‘right-to-work,’ other attacks
ALEC-inspired bills to undermine public employee unions and promote their decertification are being heard Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee chaired by Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane):
■ SB 5226, sponsored by Sen. Randi Becker (R-Eatonville), would create new administrative reporting burdens for all public employee unions and require them to file multiple reports to the state, including financial reports listing all of the unions’ expenditures, and to have that information posted publicly online. Unions would have to disclose everything from the union’s procedure for “authorization of collective bargaining demands” to “receipts of any kind and sources thereof.”
Ostensibly intended to promote transparency for rank-and-file members, the source of the proposal is not actual union members, it is the companies financing ALEC. SB 5226’s sponsor, who serves on ALEC’s education task force, lifted most of the language word-for-word from ALEC model legislation called the “Union Financial Responsibility Act.”
Greg Devereux, Executive Director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, AFSCME Council 28, testified last year in opposition to this Becker bill, calling it “unnecessary, duplicative, burdensome and punitive.” He noted that his union is already subject to federally required reporting and that information is already posted on U.S. Department of Labor website.
■ SB 5045 is sponsored by Sen. Jan Angel (R-Port Orchard), who until recently served as State Chair of ALEC. Her bill would empower a minority of workers in a public employee bargaining unit to force an election specifically to revoke their contract’s union-security clause, which requires all employees who benefit from a union contract to pay at least a representation fee.
SB 5045 aims to promote the “right-to-work” idea of getting union representation for free. States that have enacted such free-rider laws have dramatically fewer union members and workers there receive significantly lower wages and fewer benefits.
“This type of government interference in the collective bargaining process between employers and workers is unwelcome, undemocratic, and obviously intended to weaken unions,” said WSLC Legislative and Policy Director Joe Kendo. “Specific contract clauses are negotiated at the bargaining table and when an agreement is reached, union members vote on it. Granting a minority of workers the ability to parse a negotiated contract and force votes on specific provisions goes against more than a century of established collective bargaining principles.”
Hearing Tuesday on ALEC ‘ag-gag’ bill
This morning, the House Public Safety Committee was scheduled to hear HB 1104, also known as an “ag-gag” bill, making it a crime to document what happens on farms without the owner’s written consent. Pushed by ALEC, this law has been adopted now in eight states. HB 1104 sponsor Rep. Joe Schmick (R-Colfax), who serves on ALEC’s agriculture task force, wants to make Washington the ninth.
Whistleblowing employees have played a vital role in exposing animal abuse, unsafe working conditions, and environmental problems on farms. For example, in May 2014, the United Farm Workers released disturbing photos of sick cows at Darigold dairies that workers were ordered to milk. The UFW was urging not only better treatment of the animals, but also the farmworkers at Darigold farms. The farmworkers who took and shared such photos felt so strongly about it that they risked their jobs to do so. Under HB 1104, they would be risking their very freedom.
The Washington State Labor Council urges that HB 1104 be rejected. The agriculture industry should be working to prevent abuses of farmworkers and animals from occurring, not attacking whistleblowers and shielding the abusers from the public.
President’s Report on Week 1 surprises
WSLC President Jeff Johnson filed a report at The Stand about some of the session’s Week 1 surprises, including Sen. Roach’s election at President Pro-Tempore of the Senate, that body’s adoption of a “billionaire’s tax rule,” and Sen. Baumgartner’s hearing on port congestion, about which Johnson wrote:
The senator seemed impatient with port representatives who spoke about transportation problems in Washington state and the inability of our ports to handle the new megaships. Could he have been looking for someone to blame the ILWU for slowdowns at the ports? If so, he didn’t get this answer.
Meet WSLC Legislative Intern Elissa Goss
Elissa Goss is the WSLC’s Legislative and Policy Intern for 2015. Since graduating from The Evergreen State College, Elissa has spent time at the Economic Opportunity Institute, done campaign fieldwork, managed a tutoring center, and interned with U.S. Rep. Denny Heck at his D.C. office.
In her new role with the WSLC, Elissa is looking forward to deepening her understanding of how to best support workers and their families. She is particularly interested tax accountability and worker-driven job growth policies.
WSLC legislative events Feb. 19-20
The Washington State Labor Council Legislative Reception will be Thursday, Feb. 19 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm at the Red Lion in Olympia. The following day, Friday, Feb. 20, we will have its WSLC Lobby Day and rally on the Capitol steps. Stay tuned for more details.