“Proven standards…to protect public health, family economic security, and business prosperity” [VIDEO]

Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, testifies before the Washington State House Commerce & Labor Committee on HB 1356 (paid sick and safe leave), HB 1355 ($12/hour minimum wage), and HB 1354 (employee anti-retaliation), February 17, 2015:

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I’m Marilyn Watkins of EOI.

Together these 3 bills strengthen our state economy, not only in the short run by boosting family incomes, but also long term by helping people keep their jobs. Every time someone loses a job, they are at much higher risk of depleting assets, potentially losing their home, needing public assistance, and reducing future retirement income.

Without government enacted standards, 40% of US workers don’t get a single day of paid sick leave. Among workers with the lowest 10% of pay, only 20% are voluntarily offered sick leave by employers. They must choose between keeping needed income and going to work sick.

Passing paid sick days will both improve the health of Washington’s children, and help close the achievement and dropout gaps for low income kids and children of color.

Nearly 2/3 of kids who qualify for free or reduced price lunch have parents with no sick leave. That means those kids are more likely go to school sick, less likely to have health conditions like asthma treated, more often have to miss school to care for sick younger siblings.

Paid sick leave also makes workplaces safer, saving in the workers’ comp system. Researchers from the CDC found workers without paid sick days are 28% more likely to suffer non-fatal workplace injuries.

Paid sick leave standards have now been passed in nearly 20 cities and 3 states. There is no evidence from any source using generally accepted social science methodologies that business or job growth has suffered in any of the jurisdictions with sick leave laws.

According to the University of Washington study of Seattle’s law, job growth has been stronger in Seattle than in the surrounding cities since the ordinance was implemented, while provision of sick leave in restaurants increased from 14% of employers to 78%.

House Bill 1356 establishes proven standards that we know work to protect public health, family economic security, and business prosperity. Please pass all 3 of these bills.

“Advancing paid sick days and raising the minimum wage boosts our families and our economy” [VIDEO]

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director of MomsRising.org, testifies before the Washington State House Commerce & Labor Committee on HB 1356 (paid sick and safe leave) and HB 1355 ($12/hour minimum wage), February 17, 2015:


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Mr. Chair, and members of the Committee, thank you for having me here today.

My name is Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner and I’m the Executive Director of MomsRising, which has over a million members nationwide, including 40,000 members here in WA.

I’m here today to share the voices of our members, moms of Washington, who know that advancing paid sick days and raising the minimum wage boosts our families and our economy.

For example, a MomsRising member, Barbara, shared that she didn’t have access to paid sick days so had to significantly delay taking her daughter, who had an ear ache, to the doctor. This delay resulted in her daughter having permanent hearing loss.

And, Christy shared: “When my two sons were young, I always had 2 or 3 jobs at minimum wage and we barely were able to make it. You have no idea how much that effected my kids from not getting the proper dental care or clothing when they needed it.”

Our families are in crisis and this crisis hurts our economy.

The astonishing fact is that nationally 80% of low wage workers don’t have a single paid sick day, and, women (including moms) comprise the majority of low-wage, minimum wage workers.

Fortunately, advancing paid sick days and increasing the minimum wage are win-win policies. In fact, studies show that they improve public health, family economic security, and boost our economy.

The truth of the matter is that our national economy takes a beating when workers have go to work sick due to a lack of paid sick days; costing us roughly $160 billion a year in lost productivity.

Studies also show that raising the minimum wage boosts our economy. In fact, nationally 140,000 new jobs would be created by raising the minimum wage, and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago says a raise in the minimum wage would help our economy by increasing household spending nationwide by about $48 billion.

In closing, win-win solutions are possible: Raising the minimum wage and advancing paid sick days boost our families and our economy. The moms, dads, sons and daughters of Washington are counting on you. It’s time.

Thank you for considering and advancing these important bills. Thank you.

“Unequal pay isn’t rare – it’s common and prevalent in all job sectors” [VIDEO]

Sandy Restrepo, a local attorney, testifies to the Washington State House Labor Committee in favor of the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (HB 1646), February 2, 2015:

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Hello my name is Sandy Restrepo and I’m here today to testify in support of HB 1646, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.

As a mother, Latina and now lawyer, I have endured many hardships. As mentioned earlier, typically as a Latina I make 67 cents to every dollar a white man makes. I’m the first in my family to graduate college and first to pursue graduate degree. Throughout my studies, I have supported myself with low-paying jobs.

Between undergrad and law school, I accepted a position at a prestigious non-profit. Months into my new job, I learned that an equally qualified man was offered 20 percent more in salary than I was offered. I expected an organization that stood for justice would treat me fairly but unfortunately that was not the case. Unequal pay isn’t rare, it’s common and prevalent in all job sectors.

As an immigration attorney, I see all too often my clients earn significantly less because they are immigrants, women and/or don’t know their rights.

That’s why we need this legislation: to make sure this systemic injustice is eradicated.

“Family leave should never be a matter of luck.” [VIDEO]

Marilyn Watkins, Policy Director for the Economic Opportunity Institute, makes the case for family and medical leave insurance (House Bill 1273) to Washington state legislators (Jan. 29, 2015):


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Full testimony:

“Good morning. I’m Marilyn Watkins of the Economic Opportunity Institute.

It should never be a matter of luck whether a parent can afford to spend the first precious weeks and months of life with their newborn child.

It shouldn’t be a matter of luck whether someone can recover from surgery before dragging themselves back to work.

My mother died this past summer, one of Rep. Moeller’s constituents. She’d lived with breast cancer for 8 years, staying active and independent, then declined rapidly in her last month. My sister and I were fortunate to be able to take off work and nurse her at home. Our other 3 siblings were able to fly out for only a few days to see her one last time. If we hadn’t been there, mom would have had to spend her last weeks in a nursing facility. My father never could have done it on his own.

Caring for a dying parent shouldn’t be a matter of luck. Yet most workers only get a few days or weeks at most of paid leave.

5 states have provided disability and maternity leave insurance for all workers in their states for decades, and 3 of those states now have other forms of family leave as well.

Studies show these programs work:

  • Women in these 5 states are twice as likely to have paid leave after having a baby than women in other states, and they take longer leaves. Among women below 200% of the poverty level, use of paid leave tripled  in states with disability or family leave insurance.
  • New moms in these 5 states had fewer health complications and were more likely to return to work in the year following a birth and to have higher wages over time.
  • New fathers also take longer leaves – and that early bonding keeps them more involved in their children’s lives long term.
  • Researchers at the University of Washington estimate that the number of mothers and infants receiving TANF in Washington would decrease more than 13% with paid family and medical leave insurance.

With family and medical leave insurance, the state will save with elder care as well.

There’s nothing more important to our future than our children.  And building the health and economic security of our families will boost our whole state economy.

Please pass HB 1273. Thank you.”

Download/read Marilyn’s testimony here [PDF]

“What more could my wife and I have done to deserve time with our new child?” [VIDEO]

Patrick Williams, a soon-to-be dad, has a pointed question for Washington state legislators about whether they’ll take action on family and medical leave insurance (HB 1273):


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Full text: “Good morning. My name is Patrick Williams. My wife, Caitlin, and I are eagerly awaiting the birth of our first child.

I met Caitlin in San Francisco, where I had my first real job after earning a degree in Computer Science from the University of Washington. Caitlin was attending Berkeley at the time, and she went on to get her Masters from Cal State.

We both pride ourselves in working hard, and making the most of our opportunities.

Two years ago, Caitlin and I moved from California to my home town of Seattle. We bought our first house, across the street from my parents. We’ve endured the endless “Everyone Loves Raymond” references, knowing that it was going to be a perfect place to raise kids.

When I was in San Francisco, coworkers regularly took time off  to take care of their spouses and newborns, using California’s paid family leave program. It made all the sense in the world. They weren’t going to be able to focus at work knowing that their loved ones needed them.

But now that we need family leave, we don’t have it.

Now this is no sob story. We’re going to be fine.

But given that both my brother and I were 10+ lbs babies, I suspect Caitlin’s going to need some recovery time. I worked through the holidays, and I’ve stopped taking days off sick, because how can I justify taking off time now, knowing that it means a day I don’t get to spend with my newborn later?

My question to you is this: What could I have done differently to deserve more time with my newborn?

Caitlin and I prioritized education, worked hard, bought a house, and got married. I’ve been so fortunate, and done everything “right”, and even I won’t get much time with my baby and caring for my wife if she has a rough delivery.

I can’t pretend to understand the political forces at work, preventing the benefits that everyone in California takes for granted from being available in the state I love so much.

I’m hoping you can help. Because not everyone gets this lucky, and we’re still scared.

Please, pass family and medical leave insurance now, so it’s available when we have our second child – and for all the other families in the state who are even more terrified about how they’ll cope than we are.

Thank you.”

Read Patrick’s full testimony here [PDF]

“Women are worth more than spare change.” [VIDEO]

Olivia Roskill, a high school student in Redmond, WA, testifies to the Washington State House Labor Committee in favor of the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (HB 1646), February 2, 2015:


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Chair, and members of the Committee, thank you for having me here today. My name is Olivia Roskill and I attend high school in Redmond, WA. I’m one of many students here with MomsRising today.

Can the students in favor of equal pay for equal work please briefly stand?

Today we are here for, and I’m testifying in favor of, the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.

Fair pay is extremely important to me. As a Sophomore, I’m starting to think about college and possible careers. My friends and I should be able to make the most out of our futures and have the same opportunities as everyone else.

Fairness and equality are bedrock values that we’ve been taught. And we’re shocked that all these years after our great grandmothers helped win the right to vote — and our grandmothers and mothers fought for equal rights, we’re still so far off.

Right now, on average, according to the US Census, women make only 78 cents to a man’s dollar, with moms and women of color experiencing more extreme wage hits. These wage hits are just not right — and are just not fair.

One day, far in the future, I, like more than 80% of women, might have children. But knowing that the wage hits are even more extreme for moms is really concerning. It’s time to take steps to end unfair pay practices – and that starts with advancing pay transparency through the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.

In closing, I want to share what some of the students who are here with me today have to say:

Megan, shared this: “I want to know that my hard work will pay off. I want to be valued just as much as my male counterparts.”

Connor had this to say: “We have a responsibility to treat and pay people equally for equal work.”

And Lilly said: “Equal pay is a basic human right.”

Please move to pass the Equal Pay Opportunity Act as soon as possible. Women are worth more than spare change.

Thank you.

“Women are paid less in one job, and then they can never catch up.” [VIDEO]

Janet Chung, Legal and Legislative Counsel at Legal Voice, testifies to the Washington State House Labor Committee in favor of the Equal Pay Opportunity Act (HB 1646), February 2, 2015:


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Good afternoon Mr. Chair and Members of the Committee. My name is Janet Chung and I work for Legal Voice, a nonprofit organization that works to advance the legal rights of women and girls. My background in private practice was in labor and employment law. I am here today on behalf of Legal Voice to support HB 1646.

Why We Need the Equal Pay Opportunity Act: The Wage Gap

Women in Washington State make 80 cents for every dollar a man makes.1 It’s even worse for women of color: Black women make 64 cents and Latinas, 54 cents for every dollar a white man makes.2 The average Washington woman working full-time is paid $18,000 per year less than the average man.3

This trend is true at all education levels and across all occupations. Women in Washington ages 25-45 hold more four-year degrees than men, but men with less formal schooling make the same as women with four-year degrees.4 A recent study showed that even one year out of college, women already are paid less than men.5

The wage gap is partly due to occupational segregation; that is, jobs in which women predominate (e.g., administrative clerks, health technicians, office administrators, and personal care services) are paid less than jobs in which men predominate (e.g., police and firefighters, engineering and computer-related fields), even when they require comparable education and skill. This is not just a matter of choice, but often is a result of career tracking, whereby women are steered toward different jobs than men. For example, in grocery stores, meat cutters (mostly men) are paid more than deli workers (mostly women).6

But even within the same job, it is true that women with comparable education and skills to men earn less than men.7 Wage differences within the same occupation make up most of the pay gap. A Harvard economist calculated that, after controlling for age, race, hours, and education, women who are doctors and surgeons earn 71% of what men in the same occupation earn, and women who are financial specialists make 66% of what men do.8

This matters for our economy. Our labor force is almost 50% women for the first time in history.9 Nearly three quarters of mothers now work.10 In 40% of households, women are the lead or sole breadwinners.11

The Equal Pay Opportunity Act: What it Does

There are two parts to this bill: it strengthens existing equal pay laws, and it addresses pay secrecy.

In 2010, over 60% of workers were forbidden or strongly discouraged from discussing pay.12 Standard workplace culture is one of secrecy around wages. People don’t know what others make. Lilly Ledbetter, for example, who we’ve all heard of, worked for Goodyear Rubber for 20 years until she learned from an anonymous note that she was paid 86% of the lowest paid male in the same position, and only 70% of what the highest paid male in that position was paid.

The Equal Pay Opportunity Act would prohibit requiring confidentiality and would protect workers from retaliation for disclosing or discussing their wages. It provides for administrative enforcement as well as the right to pursue a claim in court. These protections are important to change the culture of secrecy and to help close the wage gap.

The NLRA does provide some protections for wage disclosure, but not enough. It protects certain employees from retaliation for discussing wages if it is “concerted activit[y] for the purpose of collective bargaining or other mutual aid or protection,” but it doesn’t cover everyone. It doesn’t protect supervisors, public sector employees, and entire industries such as airlines and railways, and not individuals acting only in their own interest. Remedies are also insufficient, and an employee cannot file a court claim until after the agency has pursued a charge and made a decision.13

Also, we do have laws prohibiting pay discrimination, but they too are inadequate. Anti-discrimination laws typically require intent, and claims are difficult to prove because an employer may give any reason, or no reason at all, for a pay differential, as long as it is not based on sex. Equal pay laws also don’t provide sufficient protection. Employers may defend by stating that a pay differential is based on “any factor other than sex.”14 Therefore, for example, courts have allowed employers to claim higher wages to males as necessary to lure them away from other employers or based on their higher prior salaries – which perpetuates systemic pay differentials. Women are paid less in one job, and then they can never catch up.

This bill would require a job-related reason for a pay differential. It also covers discrimination in job opportunities. We know that often women are not given the same information or opportunities, which results in career tracking.

This bill also would establish better enforcement. The current equal pay law has no administrative enforcement, so an employee has to file a lawsuit. A violation is a misdemeanor, but it is never enforced. The bill would allow Labor & Industries to investigate complaints and to enforce the law, and also provides for private enforcement and stronger remedies.

Essentially, this is a law to allow sunshine and equal pay opportunity. We can all agree that those are good things.

I urge you to vote HB 1646 out of committee. Thank you.

1 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates.
2 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates.
3 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates.
4 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates.
5 Christianne Corbett & Catherine Hill, American Association of University Women, Graduating to a Pay Gap:
The Earnings of Women and Men One Year after College Graduation (2012), at 9, http://www.aauw.org/files/2013/02/graduating-to-a-pay-gap-the-earnings-of-women-and-men-one-year-after-college-graduation.pdf.
6 Marilyn Watkins & Samantha Hatzenbeler, “The Equal Pay Opportunity Act: A Step Toward Fair Wages for Women,” at 2 (Data provided to the Economic Opportunity Institute by UFCW Local 21).
7 U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 American Community Survey, 1-year estimates; and Quarterly Workforce Indicators.
8 Claire Cain Miller, “Pay Gap Is Because of Gender, Not Jobs,” New York Times, Apr. 23, 2014, http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/upshot/the-pay-gap-is-because-of-gender-not-jobs.html.
9 U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Women in the Labor Force: A Databook,” BLS Reports, Report 1049 (May 2014) http://www.bls.gov/cps/wlf-databook-2013.pdf.
10 The labor force participation rate for all mothers with children under age 18 was 69.9 percent in 2013. U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, “Employment Characteristics of Families Summary,” Economic News Release (Apr. 25, 2014), http://www.bls.gov/news.release/famee.nr0.htm.
11 Wendy Wang, Kim Parker & Paul Taylor, “Breadwinner Moms: Mothers Are the Sole or Primary Provider in Four-in-Ten Households with Children; Public Conflicted about the Growing Trend,” Pew Research Center, May 29, 2013, http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/files/2013/05/Breadwinner_moms_final.pdf.
12 A. Hegewisch, C. Williams, R. Drago, “Pay Secrecy and Wage Discrimination,” Institute for Women’s Policy Research, extract published Jan. 2014, http://www.iwpr.org/publications/pubs/pay-secrecy-and-wage-discrimination.
13 National Women’s Law Center, “Combating Punitive Pay Secrecy Policies,” April 2012, http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/paysecrecyfactsheet.pdf.
14 National Women’s Law Center, “Closing the ‘Factor Other than Sex’ Loophole in the Equal Pay Act,” April 2011, http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/4.11.11_factor_other_than_sex_fact_sheet_update.pdf.