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.

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.

Ted Cruz to working mother: Don’t push it on paid family leave

hanauer quote[Via Civic Skunk Works] Here at Civic Skunk Works, we’ve spent a quite a bit of time pointing out that trickle-down economics has never been anything more than an intimidation tactic masquerading as an economic theory. For decades, politicians (from both parties) and businesses have been employing this tactic in order to scare workers into paralysis. Think about the claims which trickle-down proponents have repeated over and over again:

  • “If you raise the minimum wage, jobs will be lost.”
  • “If you tax the wealthy, jobs will be lost.”
  • “If regulation of the powerful goes up, jobs will be lost.

In short, don’t push it, buddy.

And this Monday, Ted Cruz provided a perfect illustration of this bullying tactic. The Texas senator was asked by a mother of four “what he would do about the current lack of federally mandated paid family leave.” A very good question on a very important subject which affects all working Americans. According to Think Progress, Cruz callously replied:

Giving away free stuff is very easy for politicians to do, but the simplest rule of economics is TANSTAAFL — there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. Anything a politician gives you, he must first take from you. And so if you have the federal government mandate paid medical leave,what that ends up doing is driving up the cost of labor for low-income workers.

What he’s saying is: don’t ask for too much or you’ll be priced out of a job. And just in case this mother of four missed the veiled threat, he hammers the point home when he adds, “And by the way, if you get fired or laid off, not only do you not get paid family leave but you don’t get a paycheck either.”

Do you see how slimy this strategy is? Do you see how strong-handed this approach is? Do you see how they are striking fear and doubt into the minds of American workers?

And this isn’t anything new. This is how Republicans and businesses have been framing workplace benefits for a very long time. They’ve perpetually tried to scare the American worker by threatening to cut their jobs if they ever asked for too much. (What they define as “too much” has been ever-changing. Forty years ago occupational health and safety fit under such a category, today it’s paid leave, tomorrow it may be vacation time.) In economically anxious times they know this intimidation tactic often works. Why take a chance and try to push for better benefits if your job is already in the balance?

The truth is paid family leave is actually good for businesses, the worker, and society in general. For businesses specifically paid leave improves worker retention, increases worker productivity, and improves employee loyalty and morale. How do we know this? Well, for one, paid family leave insurance programs “are already working well in California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.” That’s right – paid leave already exists in the three states and none of those state economies has nosedived into economic catastrophe. As Think Progresshighlights:

Evidence from the first two states shows that [paid family leave programs] haven’t hurt employers. About 90 percent of California businesses say that it either had a positive impact or none on profitability, employee performance, and productivity, while it helped reduce turnover, saving them an estimated $89 million each year. Themajority of New Jersey businesses surveyed also said that it hasn’t hurt their finances and some saw a benefit.

The job-killing dystopia which Ted Cruz foreshadowed to the mother of four is simply a trick. Thankfully, we know why politicians like Cruz are continuing to sell this scam to the American worker: because if he can get workers to believe this scary tale, big businesses and their politicians win.

Congratulations on paid sick and safe leave, Spokane!

spokane-sick-and-safe-leave-300x300On January 11, 2016, the Spokane City Council passed an ordinance assuring most people working in the city the right to earn paid sick and safe leave starting next year.  The Council voted 6 to 1 for the ordinance.

At the start of Monday evening’s 5 ½ hour long council meeting, the policy on the table provided for only three days of paid sick time. After listening to testimony from over 50 people – the overwhelming majority of them favoring a universal policy of at least five days, the Council amended the proposal. The ordinance as passed allows workers to earn an hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 5 days in companies with 10 or more employees, and up to 3 days in smaller firms. Paid leave can be used for the health needs of the worker or a family member, bereavement, and to deal with the consequences of domestic violence or sexual assault.

The Spokane Alliance led the Earned Sick and Safe Time Spokane Coalition in a remarkable two-year organizing effort that included a listening tour with over 50 small businesses and nonprofits, multiple community forums, and collecting stories of impacted workers. They coordinated testimony and turnout at hearings and events, submission of letters to the editor and op-eds, and the delivery of over 1,000 public comments to Council members.

Spokane is the first jurisdiction in 2016 to pass a paid sick days law. In 2015, Tacoma was first out of the gate. Four states and more than 20 U.S. cities, including Seattle, SeaTac, and Portland, now have sick leave laws in place.

More:

Testimony of Marilyn Watkins, EOI Policy Director »

Testimony of Kira Lewis, RN, BSN »

It’s Time to Get Real About Work/Life Balance. It’s 2016.

Stormtrooper sisyphus

Photo: Kristina Alexanderson via Flickr Creative Commons

When we talk about flexible work, what image comes to mind? It’s that same dang woman with the 1980s shoulder pads and grocery cart, right? Yet let’s get real: Ellen Galinsky, head of The Families and Work Institute, told me that their research shows that men actually work more flexible schedules than women do. Men even telecommute more than women. Why? Because more men are in positions of power. Affinity bias, or the Old Boys Network, ensures that men stay in those positions of power. And when you have power, you can control your time.

So let’s stop talking about how women lack ambition, or that they don’t have the drive—or the capability—to get to the corner office. Let’s get real: It’s time to carve different paths to the top, to re-design the way we work for everyone, even in the corner office, to reward focus, not multi-tasking, to value effectiveness, performance, and results, and not wear our long hours in the office like a badge of honor.

I was talking recently with Brad Harrington, director of Boston College’s Center for Work and Family who has pioneered much of the research on the evolving roles of men and fatherhood. We were lamenting how, when you say “work-life,” or “work-family,” people’s eyes tend to glaze over. Up rises the specter of that woman in a power business suit, wearing heels and wielding a shopping cart. We wondered if what we needed to grab people’s attention, and convince them how central these issues are, is new language.

But I’ve come to see that it’s not vocabulary that needs changing. It’s our thinking. That these issues have languished so long on the mommy track/women’s initiative backwater is nothing short of a colossal failure of imagination. Now it’s up to all of us to get real, to think bigger, and begin to make the real changes we all need in order to live a good life not in 2102, but in 2016.

Full story: Pacific Standard »

Seattle’s paid sick and safe time ordinance promotes safer families

MobilFrontiers_logo_031711October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and the Seattle Office of Labor Standards is highlighting the safe time provisions of Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time (PSST) law.

You can download new flier about safe time protections to educate your co-workers, family, neighbors, and sister organizations. Available in English or Spanish.

Visit the Office of Labor Standards website or Twitter page to find community resources for:

  • Domestic Violence
  • Sexual Assault
  • Legal Help

Learn more about Seattle’s Paid Sick and Safe Time law at: http://www.seattle.gov/laborstandards/paid-sick-and-safe-time