Worker Protection Act advances from committee, ready for a House vote
UPDATE (Feb. 23, 2021) — The Worker Protection Act (HB 1076) advanced from the House Appropriations Committee on Monday with some changes, but the legislation retains the strong support of the unions that comprise the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. The WSLC would like to thank the following members of the Appropriations Committee for voting to advance the bill:
Rep. Timm Ormsby
Rep. Steve Bergquist
Rep. Mia Gregerson
Rep. Nicole Macri
Rep. Frank Chopp
Rep. Eileen Cody
Rep. Laurie Dolan
Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon
Rep. Noel Frame
Rep. Drew Hansen
Rep. Jesse Johnson
Rep. Debra Lekanoff
Rep. Gerry Pollet
Rep. Cindy Ryu
Rep. Tana Senn
Rep. Monica Jurado Stonier
Rep. Pat Sullivan
HB 1076 now advances to the Rules Committee in preparation for a vote of the full House of Representatives. Stay tuned for another update later this week.
OLYMPIA (Feb. 17, 2021) — Over the years, Washington state’s voters and lawmakers have enacted many important protections for working people. Every step of the way — from raising the minimum wage, to requiring paid sick leave, to strengthening overtime pay standards — corporate lobbying groups opposed them. So it may come as no surprise when those same corporate lobbyists subsequently oppose the enforcement of those labor standards.
Unfortunately, that opposition to enforcement not only protects unscrupulous employers that break the law from consequences, it also gives them an unfair advantage over the vast majority of business owners in Washington who comply with state’s labor standards.
Such is the case with the Worker Protection Act (HB 1076), sponsored by Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island). This legislation creates no new labor rights, it merely strengthens the enforcement of existing ones. But corporate lobbyists opposed the bill en masse at its last hearing, and they are certain to do so again today at 1:30 p.m. when HB 1076 is heard in the House Appropriations Committee. (Watch on TVW here.)
TAKE A STAND — Please sign in as supporting HB 1076 before the hearing starts. Make sure you indicate “PRO” as your position.
HB 1076 would create a pathway for working people to blow the whistle on their employers when current laws are violated, but state agencies are unable or have declined to investigate the complaint. Just as citizens can blow the whistle on fraud in the Medicaid system or in federal contracting, HB 1076 allows Washington workers to do the same on labor violations in Washington state. If a court finds that an employer has violated existing labor regulations, any penalties paid will be divided between the affected worker(s) and the state agency charged with enforcing that law, providing more resources for future enforcement.
At its Jan. 22 hearing in the House Labor and Workforce Standards Committee, business lobbyists were out in force to oppose the Worker Protection Act. Meanwhile, workers told legislators about the barriers they have faced when trying to enforce their rights, and how HB 1076 will help hold employers accountable if they break the law.
“I have personally experienced working conditions that do not comply with labor laws,” said Agustin Lopez, who works in a fruit-packing warehouse in Yakima Valley. “It is very sad but many of my coworkers are too fearful to make formal complaints. They do not want to lose their job and income. I support the Worker Protection Act because it allows for a worker to file a lawsuit for themselves and their coworkers… I think this law will be a major step in the right direction for workers at my place of work and for others who work in the agricultural industry.”
Shellea Allen, National President of Pride At Work and an organizer with Teamsters Local 117, also testified in support of HB 1076.
“Here in Washington we already have some of the best laws in the country that protect the LGBTQ community,” Allen said. “Unfortunately even with these laws on the books there is no capacity for enforcement and even worse, workers are often afraid to come forward to tell their stories… The worker protection act would give the LGBTQ community another avenue to enforce the anti discrimination and retaliation laws that already exist.”
For more information about the Worker Protection Act, download this one-pager from the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, or see “Let’s help workers stand up for their rights in Washington” from The Stand on Jan. 21.