By Marilyn Watkins
Washington’s legislature could provide working families a break they need this winter. The Work and Family Coalition is backing a pair of bills that will build economic security, lay strong foundations for our children, and improve health and well-being for all Washingtonians from infancy through old age.
Even before the great recession hit, a car accident, cancer diagnosis, baby who comes too early, parent’s stroke, or bout of flu could too often lead to a family economic crisis. Despite some gains over the past two decades, workplace standards just haven’t kept up with the realities of today’s families. Most workers have only a few days or weeks of paid leave available to deal with health needs – and some have none at all.
The Work and Family legislation will protect all workers and their families, while helping businesses thrive – and even save the state some money.
Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FMLI) will protect workers during the handful of times throughout their careers when they need an extended period of time off. With the insurance, workers will receive two-thirds of their usual weekly wage for up to 12 weeks for their own serious health condition, and 12 weeks to care for a new child or seriously ill family member.
Washington adopted the beginnings of FMLI in 2007, but the legislature failed to authorize funding and postponed implementation during the Great Recession. Now the Work and Family Coalition is proposing a stronger system financed by workers and their employers, each paying small payroll premiums that would start at about $1.00 a week each for someone earning $50,000 annually.
Complementing FMLI are earned sick leave standards that will assure most employers provide a few days of paid sick leave annually. With earned sick days, workers no longer risk penalties and lost pay when they act responsibly by staying home sick or with a sick child.
Seattle, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and Connecticut have already successfully implemented paid sick days standards. New Jersey, California, New York, Rhode Island, and Hawaii have had insurance systems for decades protecting every worker in those states with benefits for more extended leaves.
Studies have found that in the states with family and medical leave insurance, parents take longer leaves with their new babies, babies and moms are healthier, mothers are more likely to be employed a year after giving birth – and states save money on public assistance and food stamps.
Employers benefit from FMLI and earned sick days, too, with healthier workers, higher morale, and less turnover.
Our legislature is facing big issues this session: continuing budget deficits, unmet needs in education, escalating healthcare costs, an aging population, and an economy still on the rocks. The
Our legislature is facing big issues this session: continuing budget deficits, unmet needs in education, escalating healthcare costs, an aging population, and an economy still on the rocks. The Work and Family Agenda helps solve some of these problems by boosting family income, enabling workers to provide better care for themselves and their family members, giving every child the chance of a good start in life, and providing businesses new tools for insuring worker health and productivity.
These are proven, common sense policies, but supporters of the status quo have powerful lobbies. We will only win if your legislators hear from YOU. Sign up for regular updates at waworkandfamily.org, follow Washington Work and Family Coalition on Facebook, and volunteer to share your story in Olympia by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marilyn Watkins is Research Director, Economic Opportunity Institute and a PSARA member