Testimony by Marilyn Watkins opposing SB 6578 and SSB 6087, limiting paid sick days and minimum wage ordinances

marilyn watkins

Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director at the Economic Opportunity Institute

Testimony of Marilyn Watkins, Economic Opportunity Institute, in opposition to SB 6578 and SSB 6087, before the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, February 1, 2016.

Good afternoon. I’m Marilyn Watkins of the Economic Opportunity Institute, speaking in opposition to SB 6578 and SSB 6087.

Washington needs to raise labor standards so that people who work hard in necessary jobs can live in dignity. The minimum wage and sick leave standards proposed in SSB 6087 simply do not go far enough to protect public health and family economic security. State standards must be a floor, not a ceiling, and local jurisdictions should be able to continue to pilot new standards as our economy evolves.
One million workers in Washington do not get a single day of sick leave now, including many in restaurants, retail, personal care, and other occupations with direct public contact. A standard of only 3-5 days would be only a modest improvement, forcing too many people to continue to go to work sick. Norovirus, which is often spread by ill food service workers, is contagious for up to 7 days, according to the CDC. So is the flu. Nationally, the average worker with sick leave uses 4 days annually – but the average includes some who use none, and others who use higher amounts. We found in interviews with low wage Seattle workers, that 25% took no paid sick days the previous year, and 17% took 6 or more.[1]

Why WA Needs PSD thumb 1Washington’s working families also need a higher minimum wage than $12 in 2020, as proposed in SSB 6087. Even today, a single, childless adult working full-time at $12 cannot meet basic expenses in most parts of the state.[2] The vast majority of low wage workers in Washington are adults, many with families to support.  Over half of workers making under $13.50 are over age 30, and 3 in 10 have children at home.[3] Across the U.S., the lowest wage workers are also least likely to get sick leave, compounding economic insecurity: 8 in 10 workers in the lowest 10% of wages and 2 in 3 in the lowest 25% of wages don’t get any.[4]

Children from low income families would continue to suffer the most if workplace standards are removed or set too low. Their parents are least likely to have sick leave voluntarily provided by employers. When parents have inadequate sick leave, kids are left sick at school, older kids have to skip school to stay home with sick siblings, and children don’t get adequate health care – especially those with chronic conditions.

Because cities have led the way, we have data on impacts from paid sick leave laws. San Francisco’s law has been in effect since 2007, Seattle’s since 2012. Over 20 cities and 4 U.S. states (California, Oregon, Massachusetts, and Connecticut ) have paid sick leave laws in place. Most of these have much higher standards than proposed here.

Studies of sick leave laws to date show:[5]

  • Covered economies are equaling or out-performing nearby communities in job and business growth – including in Seattle and San Francisco where most workers receive 7 to 9 days annually.
  • Sick leave laws have had small to no impact on business costs, hiring, or location decisions.
  • A majority of business owners support the laws.
  • Workers and their families are benefitting with more access to paid leave and better ability to care for their own and their families’ health needs.

For years studies have found that businesses providing sick leave have higher morale and productivity, less absenteeism, lower rates of turnover,[6] and increased firm profits.[7] A CDC study found that workers with paid sick leave have 28% fewer workplace accidents.[8]

Studies that take into account all of the data on differing minimum wage levels show that higher minimum wages also do not impact the number of jobs. Higher minimum wages do reduce turnover and increase incomes, helping local economies prosper.[9]

Washington workers need to be raised up, not kept down. When working families prosper, our economy prospers and all our communities benefit.


[1]     Marilyn Watkins, “Employee experience with Seattle paid sick and safe leave,” September 2015, Economic Opportunity Institute, http://www.eoionline.org/work-family/paid-sick-days/employee-experience-with-seattle-paid-sick-and-safe-leave/.

[2]     Economic Policy Institute, Family Budget Calculator, http://www.epi.org/resources/budget/.

[3]     Economic Policy Institute, “It’s Time to Raise the Minimum Wage,” April 2015, analysis of raising the minimum wage to $12 by 2020 for Washington state. http://www.epi.org/publication/its-time-to-raise-the-minimum-wage/#data-tables-characteristics-by-state6.

[4]     U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employee Benefits Survey, Table 32. Leave benefits: Access, civilian workers, National Compensation Survey, March 2015.

[5]     Economic Opportunity Institute, “Local results of paid sick leave laws,” January 2016, http://www.eoionline.org/work-family/paid-sick-days/local-results-of-paid-sick-days-laws/.

[6]     Jane Waldfogel, “The Impact of the Family Medical Leave Act,” Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, vol. 18, Spring 1999; Thomas E. Casey and Karen Warlin, “Retention and Customer Satisfaction,” Compensation & Benefits Review, May/June 2001, p. 27-30.

[7]     Christine Siegwarth Meyer, et al, “Work-Family Benefits: Which Ones Maximize Profits?” Journal of Managerial Issues, vol. XIII, No. 1, Spring 2001: 28-44. Specific estimates of the decline in workers voluntarily leaving their jobs because of access to paid sick leave range between 3.6 and 6.4 percentage points; at the mid-point, that translates into one less quite per year for every 20 employees. See: Vicky Lovell, “Valuing Good Health: An Estimate of Costs and Savings for the Healthy Families Act,” April 2005, Institute for Women’s Policy Research, http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/valuing-good-health-an-estimate-of-costs-and-savings-for-the-healthy-families-act. See also: Reagan Baughman, Daniela DiNardi, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, (2003) “Productivity and wage effects of ‘family-friendly’ fringe benefits”, International Journal of Manpower, Vol. 24 Iss: 3, pp.247 – 259; Patricia C. Borstorff and Michael B. Marker, “Turnover Drivers and Retention Factors Affecting Hourly Workers: What is Important” Management Review: An International Journal¸ Vol 2, No.1, June 30, 2007, pp. 14-27; Stephen Miller, “’Most Admired’ Tie Rewards to Performance, Address Work/Life,” March 11, 2011, viewed March 21, 2011, http://www.shrm.org/hrdisciplines/benefits/Articles/Pages/MostAdmired.aspx.

[8]     American Journal Public Health, Sep 2012, “Paid sick leave and nonfatal occupational injuries.”

[9]     Arindrajit Dube, T. William Lester, and Michael Reich, “Minimum Wage Effects Across State Borders: Estimates Using Contiguous Counties,“ The Review of Economics and Statistics, November 2010, http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/abs/10.1162/REST_a_00039; Allegretto, Sylvia, Dube, Arindrajit, Reich, Michael, “Do Minimum Wages Really Reduce Teen Employment? Accounting for Heterogeneity and Selectivity in State Panel Data,” Industrial Relations, April 2011, http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/workingpapers/166-08.pdf; Dube, Lester, and Reich, “Do Frictions Matter in the Labor Market? Accessions, Separations and Minimum Wage Effects, ” October 12, 2010, http://www.irle.berkeley.edu/workingpapers/222-10.pdf.

Testimony by Janet Chung in support of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (SB 6149)

Testimony in support of Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (SB 6149) before the Washington Senate Commerce & Labor Committee by Janet Chung, Legal Voice

Chairman Baumgartner and Members of the Committee:

My name is Janet Chung and I’m Legal & Legislative Counsel with Legal Voice.  I’m pleased to be here to speak in support of SB 6149.  I’m going to focus today on providing some legal context about why this bill is necessary and important to advancing women’s health and gender equity in the workplace.

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Washington Law Against Discrimination are the existing federal and state laws that protect pregnant workers.  But still, as you have heard from others today – too many pregnant women are still forced out on leave before they are ready – or worse, fired because they sought minor accommodations to their workplaces.

Existing laws protecting pregnant workers use an anti-discrimination framework – that is, the laws state that discriminating based on pregnancy is a form of sex discrimination – but do not say anything specifically about accommodations.  The anti-discrimination proof process under these anti-discrimination laws is not well-suited to meet the needs of workers needing accommodations.

Under existing law, a pregnant worker has to prove unlawful treatment based on her employer’s failure to accommodate her pregnancy.  The U.S. Supreme Court recently clarified in Young v. UPS what this means: a pregnant worker has to show that an employer accommodates a large percentage of non-pregnant workers “similar in their ability to work” while denying accommodations to a large percentage of pregnant workers.  Basically, it requires a pregnant woman to go out and search for some non-pregnant identical twin to prove a case.

This evidentiary framework simply doesn’t work for pregnant workers who need an immediate, and often, minor, accommodation to stay healthy and on the job and prevent complications.  Few women have the time or resources to litigate and prove discrimination.  Many are new to their jobs, lack bargaining power, are unfamiliar with company policies (if there are any) and simply do not have the luxury of time to sort out these questions – especially while their pregnancy time clock is ticking.

By contrast, when workers have ADA-covered disabilities that require accommodation, they don’t have to show how other employees are treated.  Disabled workers are generally entitled to reasonable accommodation unless the requested accommodation imposes an “undue hardship” on the employer.  Pregnant workers deserve the same clarity.

The PWFA also has the benefit of treating pregnancy as its own condition, instead of requiring that it be compared with other disabilities. It’s true that some pregnant workers have disabilities that are covered by the ADA, but the majority of pregnant workers are not disabled.  Rather, they are trying to prevent pregnancy complications.  But under the current law, they would have to prove they’re disabled to get the accommodation they need to stay healthy and on the job.

This bill will provide employers and pregnant workers with a clear, predictable rule:  Employers must provide reasonable accommodations to employees with limitations arising out of pregnancy, childbirth, or related health conditions.

Simple accommodations are all that most women need to keep them healthy AND earning an income when they need it most.

It’s in everyone’s best interest to help keep pregnant women healthy, and also to keep them in the workforce as long as they are healthy.  This bill is good for women, for families, and our economy, and Legal Voice is proud to support this legislation.

President Obama Announces Rules for Closing Gender Pay Gap

obamaIn his final year in office, President Barack Obama is returning to an issue that was at the heart of the first piece of legislation he ever signed at the White House: closing the gender pay gap.

Obama on Friday unveiled new rules that would compel companies with more than 100 workers to provide the federal government annual data for how much they pay employees based on gender, race and ethnicity.

That information would be used to help public enforcement of equal pay laws while giving more insight into discriminatory pay practices, he said from the White House.

Historically, full-time female workers have only been paid a fraction of their male counterparts: In 2014, it was 79 cents for every dollar, according to the latest White House brief.

“What kind of example does paying women less set for our sons and daughters?” Obama asked.

The proposal would cover more than 63 million employees — potentially providing a new wealth of data for understanding the pay gap issue and determining whether certain workers are getting short-changed.

In addition, Obama renewed his call to Congress to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act, which would potentially close loopholes in the Equal Pay Act of 1963 and require employers to prove that pay gaps are due to legitimate business reasons, not discrimination.

Read more: NBC News »

Legislators organize blitz of equal-pay legislation in nearly half the states

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Photo: photographybanzai via Flickr Creative Commons

Sometimes, state-based legislative change seems to be an incremental thing, with bills trickling through state houses across the country so slowly that a casual observer wouldn’t notice — which is often what backers of such campaigns would prefer.

And then there’s the supernova approach. That’s what a coalition of progressive and women’s empowerment groups are trying this week around the issue of equal pay, advancing bills in nearly half the states at once — from Alaska to Kansas — in a bid to elevate solutions to America’s nagging gender pay disparity at a time when little seems likely to happen in Congress.

“We decided that because legislators have been asking for it, let’s try to make a coordinated effort around this to try to nationalize the issue,” said Nick Rathod, director of the State Innovation Exchange, a three-year-old network of progressive state legislators.

On the menu of policy ideas that a state legislature might decide to take on, equal pay is relatively low-hanging fruit. It polls well — most people say they want everybody to receive the same compensation for similar work — and there are several options for how to address it, from simply increasing penalties for violations of existing laws to requiring minimum salaries on job postings, so that women and people of color can’t be lowballed.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a slam dunk. The biggest challenge, lawmakers say, is getting their colleagues to agree that the gender pay gap is still a problem, more than 50 years after Congress passed the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which banned discrimination on the basis of sex. Despite that and many similar state laws, women often aren’t even aware they’re being paid less than men for similar work, much less willing to go through the hassle of a lawsuit— as many people realized when the Sony e-mail hack revealed that actress Jennifer Lawrence was paid much less than her male co-stars.

“Part of the issue with current equal pay law is that it was enough to get the brashest discrimination addressed, but it’s not enough of a deterrent to get companies to get their house in order to begin with,” said Lisa Maatz, vice president of government relations at the American Association of University Women, which has made equal pay laws its number one priority. “Right now it’s cheaper to take the lawsuits.”

That’s why several states have been moving further in recent years.

Full story: Washington Post »

Tell WA legislators: Unleash the Family and Medical Leave Act

grandpaWe all need access to long-term leave at some point — whether to nurture a new child, fight cancer, or care for an aging parent. But too many Washington workers don’t have that option. They have to sacrifice health and family well-being to cover their bills.

Washington’s Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FaMLI) bill would protect people in those situations. But as of week three of a sixty-day legislative session, the FaMLI bill hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing. Without leadership’s approval, the bill will die in the Appropriations Committee, without even a chance for consideration by the full legislature.

Washington voters deserve to know whether their elected leaders will stand up and support our families. Please urge your representative to push for a hearing on the FaMLI bill in the House Appropriations Committee.

Spokane City Council holds firm on commitment to paid sick days

Photo: James Hawley/Flickr Creative Commons [Original: https://flic.kr/p/6oegMc]

Photo: James Hawley/Flickr Creative Commons [Original: https://flic.kr/p/6oegMc]

Spokane’s City Council held firm on their commitment to assuring that people working in the city will be able to earn paid sick and safe leave starting next January. Mayor Condon vetoed  the law that passed January 11 with a 6 to 1 vote, saying he hoped the Council would reconsider. But the Council acted to override that veto at their next meeting, January 25, 2016.

Over the past two years, hundreds of workers, business owners, and community leaders turned out to talk about what a paid sick days ordinance would mean to them. The overwhelming majority of them favored passing an ordinance to protect public health, allow survivors of domestic violence to seek safety, and boost family economic security.

Without sick leave standards in place, four in ten workers don’t get a single day of paid sick leave, and many more face penalties at work when they do call in sick. Spokane’s new law will allow people to stay home from work when sick without losing income. Sick children won’t be left miserable at school or home alone because a parent can’t take off work. And as Carol Krawczyk of the Spokane Alliance and I said in our Spokane Spokesman-Review op-ed:

Customers of Spokane businesses will be able to rest a little easier next year when the law takes effect, knowing the person serving their salad, caring for a loved one in a nursing home or handling their store purchase isn’t being forced by family finances or employer policy to come in sick.

Spokane is the third city in Washington state to pass paid sick leave. Next November, voters statewide will likely have the chance to weigh in on a ballot measure providing a minimum standard for paid sick leave for workers across the state, along with an increase in the minimum wage.

Marilyn Watkins is policy director for the Economic Opportunity Institute, which spearheads the Washington Work and Family Coalition.

Sick and safe leave right for Spokane

[via The Spokesman-Review] No one should be forced to go to work sick. No child should languish ill and miserable at school because her parent fears a missed shift will result in a lost job. No worker should have to choose between grocery money or taking a few days off to get well.

That is what thousands of citizens told the Spokane Alliance in its two-year campaign to bring earned sick and safe leave to more than 40,000 low-income workers who toil in Spokane with no safety net.

In 2014, and again last year, the Spokane Alliance convened two community forums attended by 500 people at which several Spokane City Council members agreed to work with us on a sick-leave policy. Dozens of local businesses joined in, arguing that paid sick leave and paid time off to deal with domestic violence is good for their employees – and good for business. Over 1,000 local people signed supportive cards that we delivered to City Hall last summer.

Our elected City Council members listened – and acted.

They convened a diverse task force of business leaders, health professionals, unions and nonprofits to study the issue. In June, the task force recommended that “all employees should be covered for earned sick and safe leave in Spokane.”

On Jan. 11, the City Council voted 6-1 for an ordinance requiring businesses to offer three to five days of sick leave, depending on business size, for everyone in the city.

Now that Mayor David Condon has vetoed the ordinance as threatened, the council should immediately override.

Seventy-two people signed up to testify on Jan. 11. Supporters of earned sick and safe leave packed the council chamber. The overwhelming majority of those who spoke urged a strong ordinance to protect public health. Many told moving stories.

Adrielle Toussaint recounted having the stomach flu and being told by her now former employer she had to come to work anyway. As she sat weeping on the bathroom floor after being violently sick, her boss told her to get back to serving her retail customers.

School nurse Kira Lewis described kids coming to school with fevers and flu because their parents could not take off work.

After the vote, City Council President Ben Stuckart said he could not imagine not having sick leave while his father lay dying over a year ago and his wife experienced health problems in recent months.

Spokane now joins two dozen other cities – large and small – and four states in having minimum paid sick leave. All faced opposition from a vocal minority, but data show the fears expressed by critics are unfounded.

Local economies with sick-leave laws are equaling or outperforming nearby communities in job and business growth, according to academic and government studies.

During Spokane’s debate over sick leave, it has been easy to forget about the high cost of not guaranteeing sick leave for all: poorer health, children struggling in school, family insecurity and lost consumer spending.

In a recent report, the Spokane Regional Health District said “presenteeism” – coming to work sick – leads to lost productivity, increased workplace accidents and higher turnover, forcing costly hiring and training of new workers.

Business economists have repeatedly found that presenteeism costs American companies more each year than providing sick leave. Those savings explain why most employers have been able to implement new sick-leave policies with minimal impact on business costs.

Spokane’s ordinance is especially well-designed because it covers almost all employers. Germs don’t pay attention to an employer’s size.

Customers of Spokane businesses will be able to rest a little easier next year when the law takes effect, knowing the person serving their salad, caring for a loved one in a nursing home or handling their store purchase isn’t being forced by family finances or employer policy to come in sick.

And the workers themselves? They will have a modest safety net allowing them to cope with illness and domestic violence.

We congratulate the Spokane City Council on its new sick and safe leave policy – a victory for everyone.

Carol Krawczyk is the lead organizer for the Spokane Alliance. Marilyn Watkins is the policy director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, a Seattle-based think tank.