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Bill would guarantee paid sick leave for most employees in the state

Post by Jimmy Lovaas / The News Tribune on Feb. 4, 2013 at 7:05 pm |
February 5, 2013 1:55 pm

Legislation requiring most state employers to provide paid sick leave will get a public hearing tomorrow.

House Bill 1313 would make Washington the second state in the nation to guarantee paid sick days for all workers. Currently, only Connecticut has such a law.

Of course, given the business climate in the state, the resistance it would face in the House, and the GOP-backed coalition caucus in the Senate, it’s a long shot.

However, it is noteworthy that the business climate was equally rocky in 2011 when the Seattle City Council passed a similar law. The Seattle ordinance requires all employers in the city with five or more employees to provide paid sick leave. Currently, Seattle is one of only four cities in the country to have such a requirement.

According to Marilyn Watkins, policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute, even after Seattle’s sick leave ordinance took effect, approximately 850,000 of Washington’s 2.8 million jobs still do not offer paid sick leave.

Watkins also said workers who already earn sick leave may still benefit from a statewide sick leave law. She said that many employers have policies that are a “pretty big disincentive” to employees trying to use accrued sick leave. She said it’s common for grocery workers, for example, to not have access to sick time until after they’ve called out for two days. Watkins said HB 1313 would allow these workers to access to sick time from the first day.

Tom Geiger, communications director for United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) 21, said he anticipates a crowded room when the bill comes up for a 10 a.m. public hearing tomorrow in front of the House Committee on Labor & Workforce Development. UFCW is the largest private sector union in the state representing 38,000 workers.

“I have worked on a lot of issues over the past 17 years in the state capital and few if any have had the simplicity, broad impact for millions, and huge public support as this one,” Geiger said.

Of course, whether or not the issue has “huge public support” is certainly debatable. Additionally, many employers and business interests in Connecticut have argued the sick leave law that took effect in their state beginning Jan. 2012 is anti-business and will cost state employer’s millions each year.

HB 1313 is a reincarnation of a 2012 proposal by recently retired Rep. Mary Lou Dickerson. And, while Dickerson’s bill never made it out of committee, it remains to be seen how Jinkins’ try at bat will work out. It is plausible that it could see a floor vote, however, considering four of the five Democrats on the committee – including both the committee’s chair and vice chair – are sponsoring the bill.

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