House floor votes imminent on minimum wage, sick leave, retaliation
OLYMPIA (Feb. 25, 2015) — “Which Side Are You On?”
That question from a classic union anthem was repeatedly posed by Lynne Dodson, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, to several hundred union members and community supporters at Friday’s labor rally on the Capitol steps.
“Which side are you on? Shared prosperity or even greater inequality?” she asked. “Shared prosperity and a better world for all of us, or just more profits for the few, already wealthy?”
Washington voters will soon find out which side their representatives are on. Three key pieces of the Washington State Labor Council’s 2015 Shared Prosperity Agenda have cleared two committee hurdles and are ready for a full vote of the House any day now:
► HB 1355, sponsored by Rep. Jessyn Farrell (D-Seattle), to increase the state’s minimum wage over four years to create a new floor of $12 an hour.
► HB 1356, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), to allow all workers in Washington to earn sick leave to take care of themselves or a loved one when they are sick.
Polls show that such changes are supported by voters of both political parties, and our elected representatives have heard testimony from many working people who support the bills.
People like Klayson of Redmond: “My boss owes me thousands of dollars in back wages and even though I won my case in court I haven’t seen a penny of that money… He used to force me to wash his car and even do work around his home by claiming that since I was his employee, I had to do anything that he demanded. For two years and eight months I was afraid to seek a better job because my boss threatened to turn me over to immigration services… This is dangerous. This is people agreeing to be slaves because they are afraid of what would happen if they spoke up.”
People like Norman of Bremerton: “Many of us are working two jobs and trying to get an education at the same time. It will work if you are living with your parents. If your parents can’t help, it is tough and many drop out of school perpetuating another generation living in poverty. Some of our politicians will argue they understand, because they were brought up poor. The reality is 16 hours a day, six days a week just for shelter and food, and then try to get ahead. It doesn’t work.”
People like Jennifer of Auburn: “If I get sick I have to call in and say I’m sick within a certain amount of time before my shift, and if I miss more than one day then I’m fired. The other issue is being a mother. If my children are sick, I can’t call in sick to take care of them. By the third day I would be fired.”
Of course, our representatives have also heard from business lobbying groups that oppose these pro-working family bills.
CLICK HERE to send a message to your State Representatives today in support of these important bills. Then stay tuned as we find out which side they’re on.
On transportation, hold the ideology
It is a phenomenon of modern political times that some lawmakers are so devout in their ideological beliefs that they are willing to sacrifice normal and proper operations of government to force action on policies that lack the support to pass on their own. The latest example: an impending shutdown of the federal Homeland Security Department over an attempt to repeal President Barack Obama’s executive orders on immigration.
Washington has also had its share of “hostage taking.” Two years ago, our state government nearly had a shutdown of its own after three overtime sessions to resolve a budget. It took that imminent shutdown and Gov. Jay Inslee calling out the “ideological wish list” of right-wing policy bills unrelated to the budget for cooler heads to prevail and avert a crisis.
For three years, funding for our state transportation system has suffered similar hostage taking. The difference is that our highways, bridges, buses and trains don’t shut down when lawmakers couple their maintenance and improvement with ideological policies. Instead, they just wither on the vine.
That significant withering has prompted a rare coalition of business, labor, environmentalists, local leaders, farmers, transit and freight mobility interests to call for transportation funding, but those calls have gone unheeded. Two years ago, the Democratic-controlled House passed a funding package only to have it die in the Republican-controlled Senate, which neither voted on it nor proposed an alternative of its own. The obstacle: senators who insisted of “reforms” that would lower wages for transportation workers, relax state policies that promote apprenticeship and training for those workers, and shift money from the state’s already-depleted general fund to pay for roads.
This year, we have progress. A bipartisan group of senators released that chamber’s first transportation funding proposal in three years. The good news is that $15 billion worth of desperately needed projects large and small across the state would be funded, largely through a phased in 11.7 cent increase in gas taxes, to create good jobs and keep our state competitive.
The bad news: this important investment is again coupled with ideological policies that would stand no chance of passage on their own and threaten the viability of the whole plan. It not only includes efforts to weaken prevailing wage and apprenticeship standards, it seeks to block the state from requiring any form of carbon reductions, as proposed by Gov. Inslee, for the next 16 years. In addition, it shifts $1 billion in sales taxes away from the general fund at a time the state is already in contempt of court for underfunding basic education by being billions of dollars.
But that said, it’s still progress. At least there is a Senate plan on the table to debate. Last week, overflow crowds showed up to do just that at Senate hearings on the transportation package. Ultimately, the Senate Transportation Committee advanced the entire package, making it available for a Senate floor vote soon.
Sen. Curtis King (R-Yakima), that committee’s chair, accepted an invitation to discuss the package at last week’s meeting of the Washington State Labor Council Executive Board (see photo at right). WSLC President Jeff Johnson and other officers thanked him for his leadership on the issue while respectfully disagreeing on the aforementioned policy issues embedded in the package.
“Transportation is not a partisan issue. I have never driven down a Republican road or crossed a Democratic bridge,” WSLC President Jeff Johnson wrote in a letter to legislators. “Safe streets and transit funding should never be conditioned on partisan beliefs about how and whether or not to reduce carbon emissions.”
Similarly, the Washington State Building and Construction Trades strongly supports a clean transportation funding package, but Executive Secretary Lee Newgent expressed disappointment in the ideological policies attached to that funding.
“Building trades workers face greater costs than most industries when it comes to a gas tax. We travel many miles to work on transportation projects,” Newgent wrote to legislators. “We support a gas tax increase but it is a form of double jeopardy to pay a higher gas tax and then be asked to concede to demands that undermine apprenticeship and prevailing wage policies.”
More cutoff deadlines loom
It’s cutoff season. Last Friday was the deadline for bills to pass out of policy committees and this Friday is the cutoff for bills to pass out of fiscal committees. Bills have until Wednesday, March 11 to pass floor votes in their houses of origin.
In the House, many WSLC-supported bills remain alive awaiting a floor vote, including the aforementioned minimum wage, sick leave and retaliation bills. Others, such as the aerospace tax break accountability bill, HB 1786—require fast committee action before this Friday’s deadline to remain alive.
In the Senate, many WSLC-opposed bills remain alive that undermine our state workers’ compensation system, create sub-minimum wages for teenaged workers, and attacking the collective bargaining rights of public employees.
After this Friday’s fiscal committee cutoff, we will publish a list of bills that remain alive that the Washington State Labor Council supports or opposes. In the meantime, if you have questions about the WSLC position on any particular legislation, email David Groves or call him 206-281-8901.