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Strong support for wage theft, minimum wage, sick leave bills

OLYMPIA (Feb. 17, 2015) — To keep building a strong economy, our state needs policies that will support a robust and healthy workforce. Workers have the right to earn an honest day’s wage that allows them to support themselves and their families, to feel safe against retaliation for wage theft, and not have to choose between taking care of sick loved ones or putting food on the table.

That was the message delivered by several panels of policy experts, small business owners, and rank-and-file working people Monday in the House Appropriations Committee hearings on three critical bills that are part of the Shared Prosperity Agenda of the Washington State Labor Council and its community allies. All three have already passed the House Labor Committee, but must be advanced by this fiscal panel before receiving a floor vote.


The three bills are:

Discouraging Retaliation for Reporting Wage Theft (HB 1354), sponsored by Rep. Cindy Ryu (D-Shoreline) and 24 others — While most employers do their best to pay workers lawfully, or quickly remedy pay problems when they are identified, there are some businesses that simply do not pay what is owed to their workers, even when presented with evidence showing the shortfall. That is stealing, plain and simple. Even worse, some employers will retaliate against workers who seek what they’ve rightfully earned by cutting their hours, terminating employment, or threatening immigration-related actions.

HB 1354 would grant administrative and legal remedies to employees retaliated against for reporting violations of minimum wage, prevailing wage, an other pay standards.

At Monday’s hearing, former Walmart worker Gerry Paladan said he was fired for talking to co-workers about getting their proper wages, including overtime pay. “This put a big target on my back and Walmart fired me,” he said. “People should have the right to ask questions about wages.” (His testimony begins at 46:55 in the TVW clip above.)

Raising the Statewide Minimum Wage to $12/hour (HB 1355), sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle) and 42 others — If you work full time, you shouldn’t be forced to live in poverty. But the current state minimum wage of $9.47/hour, which is less than $20,000 per year for a full-time worker, is not enough for hard-working people to meet their basic food, housing, and health care needs. This means they must rely on government and charitable programs to make ends meet.

HB 1555 would accelerate the voter-approved annual increases to about 50 cents per year over the next four years to reach $12 per hour in 2019, and then resume inflationary increases.

“To me, it comes down to a matter of dignity and doing the right thing for the people that you serve,” said Dan Olmstead, President of Poverty Bay Coffee Company in Auburn/Federal Way, which employs 26 people. “Nobody is asking for a handout. Nobody is asking for anything the don’t show up every day and earn. What they’re asking for, what we’re proposing, and what you guys need to support is people being able to have just the bare necessities after working their butts off all day.” (His testimony is at 1:00:20.)

Establishing Paid Sick and Safe Days (HB 1356) sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma) and 42 others — You shouldn’t be forced to choose between staying home sick or caring for an ailing child and putting food on your table. But an estimated 1 million workers in Washington are forced to make those choices because they are prohibited from earning paid sick time off. In addition to being morally wrong, this poses a significant public safety risks because many of these people serve food in restaurants and grocery stores, and work in other retail settings with direct customer contact.

“I’ve seen a lot of sick people coming to work and dealing with your food,” said Kyong Barry, an Albertson’s employee who has worked in the grocery industry for 13 years. She said it puts the entire community at risk. (Her testimony is at 53:10.)

HB 1356 would allow all workers in Washington state to earn at least 40 hours of paid time off per year. A 2014 Public Religion Research Institute survey found that 81 percent support such legislation, with majority support across all demographic and political groups. Fully 70 percent of Republican voters said they support such a law.

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!