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New year brings new workplace standards in Washington

State minimum wage rises and eligibility for overtime pay grows. Have you been denied these or other workplace rights? Share your story!


OLYMPIA (Jan. 4, 2021) — If you are a worker in Washington state who earns the minimum wage or a salaried worker who earns just above the minimum wage, the new year brings good news.

Washington’s minimum wage increased to $13.69 per hour on Jan. 1, 2021. That 19-cent inflationary increase comes as a result of the passage of Initiative 1433, a successful ballot measure proposed and supported by the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO (WSLC) and a coalition of labor and community allies in 2016. Thanks to I-1433, all workers in Washington state also receive paid sick leave, earning at least one hour of it for every 40 hours worked and allowing workers to carry over up to 40 hours of unused sick leave from one year to the next. This is a critically important benefit as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on.

In Seattle and SeaTac, minimum wage rates are higher. Complete information about the minimum wage is available on the state Department of Labor and Industries website, as well as details about rest breaks and meal periods. Also, there is a new “Your Rights as a Worker” poster that businesses in Washington are required to display in their workplace.

Also on Jan. 1, thousands more workers in Washington will gain more time to spend with their family and friends, more overtime pay, or a little of both. That’s because the state’s new overtime pay standard has begun phasing in increases in the salary threshold below which all workers must be receive time-and-a-half overtime pay for hours worked beyond 40 per week.

Effective Jan. 1, all salaried workers at small businesses with 50 or fewer employees who earn less than 1.5 times the state minimum wage, or $821.40 per week ($42,712.80/year), are now eligible for overtime pay. For employees of large businesses with more than 50 workers, the new threshold is 1.75 times the minimum wage, or $958.30 a week ($49,831.60/year). The state’s overtime standard will continue phasing in with annual increases until it reaches 2.5 times the minimum wage, or about $83,000 a year, in 2028.

All of Washington’s pro-worker standards — the minimum wage, paid sick leave, overtime pay eligibility, and others fought for and won by the state’s labor movement — mean little if employers ignore the law and deny them to workers. Although workers denied their rights can file a Workers Rights Complaint with L&I, the state’s capacity to investigate and prosecute violators of these laws is limited. That’s why the WSLC will again support passage of the Worker Protection Act in the 2021 session of the Washington State Legislature, which begins next week.

This legislation, similar to a successful law in California that has increased employer compliance and generated revenue for the state, would empower workers to blow the whistle on employers that break the law. If the state doesn’t investigate and prosecute a violation of state laws protecting workers’ rights, an employee could file suit on behalf of the state for all affected workers. If the employer ends up paying any penalties, the state would get a share of those proceeds.

Are you a worker who has been denied the state minimum wage, paid sick leave, overtime pay, health-and-safety protections, equal pay, or some other minimum workplace standard? Please share your story with the WSLC.

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!