By Marilyn Watkins
On April 1st, Senator Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) cancelled a meeting of the Washington Senate Commerce and Labor Committee which he chairs. Since April 1st was the legislative “cut-off” deadline, that means that the equal pay, paid sick days, and minimum wage bills heard in his committee are essentially dead for this year.
But all of this year’s bills can be reconsidered again, starting next January. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will be working hard in the meantime to be sure that all of our priorities are priorities for our legislators in 2016. And you can help send them the message.
Women deserve equal pay whether they live in Spokane or Seattle, Yakima or Grays Harbor, Bellingham or Vancouver. Yet we heard in testimony Monday that employers across the state impose wage secrecy policies, so no one knows if some co-workers are getting paid more than others for the same work. And managers in high tech companies, grocery stores, and hospitals use their discretion – and assumptions about gender roles – to more often recommend men for promotion and assign them to higher paying departments. That is why we need to pass the Equal Pay Opportunity Act.
We also know that everyone gets sick, but 1 million workers in Washington get no paid sick leave, and even more are discouraged from using the sick leave they’ve earned. Every day in every school district in our state, sick kids are waiting miserably at school because no adult in the family can leave work to pick them up. Children as young as 9 or 10 are missing school to stay home with their sick younger siblings because their mom can’t risk missing another day of work.
The Washington State Board of Health, in a comprehensive health impact review of House Bill 1356 establishing Paid Sick and Safe Leave, concluded: “Evidence indicates that HB 1356 has potential to improve financial security; decrease the transmission of communicable disease; improve health outcomes; and to decrease health disparities by income, educational attainment, race/ethnicity, and geography.”
Meanwhile, with over 20 U.S. jurisdictions now requiring paid sick leave, including Seattle, Tacoma, and Portland, we know that businesses thrive with healthier and more productive workers and more financially stable customers.
And we haven’t forgotten Family and Medical Leave Insurance, which “died” in the legislature a few weeks ago. No one should have to forego needed surgery or drag themselves back to work before they’ve fully healed because they don’t have enough paid leave. Our elders should have family surrounding them through serious illnesses and during their final weeks of life, whether they’re part of the 1% or the 99%.
Every baby born or adopted in our state deserves several months of uninterrupted, unstressed time with their parents while their little brains and bodies are developing most quickly. We know from states with universal paid family and medical leave programs already in place that babies and moms are healthier if both moms and dads take longer leaves from work, fewer families are forced to rely on public assistance, and more moms are employed and for higher pay a year following childbirth.
Equal pay, paid sick days, and paid family and medical leave are all simple concepts that the vast majority of voters support – whether Democrat, Republican, or Independent, whether they live in a big city or not. The Washington Work and Family Coalition will continue fighting for these policies. Let your elected officials know that you will, too.
Marilyn Watkins is Policy Director at the Economic Opportunity Institute and a member of PSARA.