WA State Rep. Gael Tarleton at Take Back Your Time Day!

Washington State Representative Gael Tarleton speaks the Seattle TAKE BACK YOUR TIME DAY picnic about why she introduced a paid vacation bill in the Washington legislature and the need to protect the rights of working Americans and the middle class.

CELEBRATION Picnic at Gasworks Park, for Take Back Your Time Day! –and the 75th Anniversary of the 40-hour week October 24, 2015

Voter support clear for wage, sick leave legislation

The just-concluded elections helped to resolve nothing in our state.

We will have a small Republican majority in the state Senate and a small Democratic majority in the state House. They won’t agree on much of anything.

Perhaps the Legislature can take a few hints from other states and cities around the country. In Arkansas, the Republicans enjoyed a clean sweep of all statewide offices, all Congressional seats and increased their majorities in the State Senate and the State House. At the same time, the people voted by a 2-to-1 majority to increase the minimum wage in their state by $2.25. In South Dakota, the Republicans swept all offices, and the people voted to increase the minimum wage by $1.25, effective on January 1, and, taking a tip from our state, made sure that the minimum wage keeps up with inflation after that. In Nebraska, GOP victories for U.S. Senate, governor, secretary of state, attorney general, lieutenant governor, auditor, and other offices were accompanied by a strong victory for raising the minimum wage by $1.75 to $9 by 2016.

Alaska voters elected Republicans as U.S. senator and Congressperson, an independent former Republican as governor, and kept Republican majorities in their state Senate and state House. And Alaskans also voted more than 2-to-1 to increase the minimum wage to $9.75 as of January 2016, which will be higher than our current minimum wage in Washington state. On the East Coast, Massachusetts voters elected a Republican governor and put into law a statewide paid sick days law modeled on Seattle’s ordinance. And ping-ponging back to our coast, Oakland, California, passed an ordinance raising the minimum wage to $12.25 and requiring businesses to provide five paid sick days a year.

Something is happening here, and it is pretty clear what it is. When voters are faced with a clear-cut decision on actual policy, they vote for their own economic security and that of their neighbors and friends. When they are faced with candidates who promise everything (and often deliver nothing, or even the opposite of what they promise), they swing back and forth between Republicans and Democrats. Candidates of both parties hype themselves to the voters, with rhetoric and platitudes. And once they are in office, they often stand down from their own promises.

In Washington, our elected public servants in the state House and state Senate have a chance now to turn campaign slogans into actual policy. If the voters in both conservative Republican-controlled states and Democratic-controlled states have endorsed new policy for increasing the minimum wage and for making paid sick days a labor standard, our political leaders should be able to do the same thing here. These issues have support across party lines. It should be simple. In fact, legislation for paid sick days was introduced in the House last year, sponsored by state Reps. Mike Sells, D-Everett; Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish; Luis Moscoso, D-Bothell; and Cindy Ryu, D-Shoreline. The Democratic-controlled House passed this bill to the Senate, and the Republican leadership of the Senate let it die.

So, in considering the votes across the country for paid sick days, why don’t we just consider that inaction a Mulligan, and take a do-over this year. The Democratic House can pass it over to the Senate, and this time, the Senate could actually consider this bill and take an up-or-down vote on it. That would be refreshing.

While they are at it, the Legislature might want to consider increasing the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour over a three-year period. This was introduced by Rep. Jessyn Farrell, D-Seattle. It made it through one committee and stopped there. Some members of the House thought that they had done enough for workers by passing the paid sick days bill. Increasing the minimum wage was just too heavy a lift for them. But our minimum wage is still less than what it was, adjusted for inflation, in 1972. Raising the minimum wage is good for workers. It also adds a bit of equilibrium to the growth in productivity, ensuring that is not just hogged by the top echelon of executives. The people know this, and so they support it. But will our Legislators do the right thing?

Originally published at the Everett Herald

Time to take care of our own: Let’s pull ourselves into the 21st century, America

The United States is one of four countries in the world that doesn’t offer new moms paid maternity leave. Pakistan has better maternity leave policies than us.  Now, I can be an American exceptionalist as good as the next girl, but are you kidding me?

Just two months ago, the FAMILY Act was introduced to Congress for the first time. The bill would create a family and medical leave insurance program to be used for parental leave, a serious medical emergency or to take care of an ill parent, spouse or child. The proposal is modeled after successful social insurance programs in California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Hawaii.

What would paid leave mean for you? Well, if you have a family or plan to start one someday, it might be nice to take time off to care for your child or – you know – heal from delivering a baby.  In 1993, 21 years ago today, Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act to allow new parents to take job-protected, but unpaid, parental leave. But over 80 percent of expecting moms don’t even qualify for the FMLA. Employees aren’t getting much relief from their bosses either – only 12 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their workplace, yet 81 percent of U.S. women will have children by the time they’re 40.

But paid family leave isn’t just about our kids – it’s about our parents too. The first Baby Boomers turned 65 in 2011. Between now and 2030 the population of those over the age of 65 will grow to 72 million, up from 35 million in 2010. Today, 43.5 million adults – mostly grown kids and aging spouses – are providing unpaid care for someone over the age of 50, costing the U.S. trillions of dollars each year in lost wages, absenteeism and productivity. Two-thirds of all caregivers are women, complicating women’s ability to thrive in workplaces that don’t accommodate the demands of family.

The Washington legislature has considered, but not passed, bills for statewide paid sick days and state-based family and medical leave insurance. Passage of paid leave bills in either “Washington” would mean every worker could earn a few days of sick leave each year for doctor’s visits or when the flu strikes. Every baby born in our state would have the benefit of the best possible start, with loving care by parents no longer forced to rush back to work too soon. Working people could spend time with a dying parent or critically ill spouse, without risking a financial disaster. An economically secure workforce means lower costs for the state and taxpayers, too.

Paid family and medical leave is a common sense solution to the predictable booms and busts of work and family. It’s a popular idea too – 72% of U.S. voters support expanded paid family and sick leave policies.

It’s time to update policies to match the reality of today’s working families. It’s time to take care of our own.

Originally published at EOIOnline

Can we all benefit from the economy?

The slow recovery from the great recession has heightened stark inequality in Puget Sound. Corporate profits and the stock market are soaring (think Boeing) but wages are stagnant, workers have lost their company pensions (think Boeing) and job growth is still lagging. Even with the 777X, think of Boeing again — they pushed 1,500 engineering jobs out of our state last year. The middle class is besieged.

Wages for the top fifth of workers have grown, but everyone in the middle or below has actually lost ground. The bottom 10 percent of workers, compared to the bottom 10 percent 35 years ago, actually make 25 cents less per hour. The worker in the middle makes about $18 an hour, a 15 cent per hour decline. Meanwhile, worker productivity has almost doubled. So where did this money go? Corporate profits and CEO salaries, for starters.

These inequalities did not happen by accident or because of some immutable laws of economics. Since the 1980s, national policy changes have undermined the middle class. Congress cut taxes for the wealthy and corporations, resulting in less public money to invest in education, college, Head Start, basic research and public infrastructure. Corporations strategize how to grab tax credit windfalls and government contracts simultaneously (think Boeing) and face less oversight (think Boeing and self-certification of a certain battery on the 787) and move around the globe searching to exploit the cheapest labor and avoid any consequences for environmental destruction.

Boeing’s demand that the Machinists give up their pensions and the state hand out further tax breaks was successful because the middle class across our country is so beaten down. If we want to realize a better and shared quality of life, we must reverse the growing inequality of income, opportunity, health and wellbeing. Instead of just being on your own, facing the unpredictabilities of health, work, education and life, we could all be part of a community of responsibility. Sort of like Social Security, through which everyone pays in, everyone gets benefits from, and everyone has skin in the game. With a platform of shared economic security, our private economy will thrive, with more customers for businesses, which means more profits AND more hiring, and that means more competition that increases bargaining power of workers.

Think about that, and run it backwards. High unemployment drives down workers’ wages and benefits and autonomy. High unemployment, especially in a state dependent on sales taxes, drives down public revenues, which means the state can’t fund the public services — like education and higher education — that workers and citizens need. Public workers — teachers, public health workers, snowplow drivers — are all threatened with diminished salaries and benefits because there is not much money, and, after all, that’s what’s happening in the private sector. And so the story goes, shifting money and power and hopes and dreams from ordinary workers and citizens and public services to corporate coffers and power brokers. Hurray for the recession.

This is the context our state legislators face as they start the 2014 legislative session. There are plenty of things they could do to re-channel the benefits of economic growth to working people rather than to corporate profits. Here is a short list:

  • Increase our state minimum wage to $12. Our lowest wage workers earn less than the inflation-adjusted level of the 1960s.
  • Pass paid sick days. No one should be forced to go to work sick, or leave their sick child miserably suffering at school.
  • Give child care teachers a raise. They deserve worthy wages. Investing in them is an investment in high quality early learning.
  • Expand access to higher education. Pass the Dreamer Act for immigrant kids and implement the Pay-It-Forward model of debt-free college financing for middle class students.
  • Close tax loopholes — and don’t create any new ones. Corporations that whine about wanting more public investment in education and infrastructure need to start paying up.

Is this a pipedream? Maybe. But if voters demand action from the people who represent them, then maybe we’ll start getting our economy working for the benefit of all of us … some day.

Originally published at EOIOnline

A Seattle Mom’s Story: Why We All Need Paid Sick Days

One evening in 2010, Monica’s baby had a seizure. After a frantic call to 911, a terrifying rush to the hospital, and a night spent by her son’s side, Monica had to get to her 7 am shift at a local Safeway. She hated to leave her son but she couldn’t afford to lose a day’s pay or risk her job. But now with paid sick days in Seattle, Monica — and more than two and a quarter million other workers across the county — don’t have to leave an ill child or go to work sick.

Learn more and get engaged in Washington’s campaign for paid sick days with the Washington Work and Family Coalition.

For a related story see The FAMILY Act is Badly Needed to Update the Outdated Workplace Policies That Are Hurting America’s Families. “Of the 188 countries for which data are available, the United States is one of just seven that do not guarantee paid maternity leave.” The FAMILY Act, introduced by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D – N.Y.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D – Conn.), will fix that.

Originally published at EOIOnline.

Seattle Speaks for Itself: D.C. Corporate Group is dead wrong on paid sick leave

Last week, The Seattle Times published an op-ed by Michael Saltsman of the D.C. Employment Policies Institute asserting that a recent EPI study had found Seattle’s paid sick days law was hurting local businesses. As we pointed out at the time, EPI’s ‘report’ was basically an opinion survey of targeted opponents to sick days.

But Seattle has never been a city to sit quiet while a D.C mouthpiece purports to speak for our city and region. The Times published a handful of letters to the editor from supporters of paid sick days. Here’s what Seattle had to say about itself:

Leave especially important in food industry

Michael Saltsman’s critique of Seattle’s paid sick-leave law neglects to mention the public-health benefits of enabling people to stay home from work when they are sick. [“Guest column: Sick-leave pay not a cure-all,” Opinion, Aug. 20.]

Everyone can agree that restaurant workers should not to handle food when they are sick. But without paid leave, some workers simply cannot afford to stay home, no matter how ill they are. In fact, a recent survey of food-service workers found that in the past year alone, 5 percent worked while experiencing vomiting or diarrhea…(continue)

Kelly Richburg, Seattle

Institute works against labor interests

The research director of the Employment Policies Institute, author of the recent column on sick leave, is part of a conservative organization devoted to keeping wages as low as possible, and benefits nonexistent. [“Guest column: Sick-leave pay not a cure-all,” Opinion, Aug. 20.]

I commend The Seattle Times for allowing this column to be printed, thereby allowing the reader to better understand the forces working against all working women, men and children…(continue)

Mark Parrent, Bellevue

Consider the source

…As people read the recent guest column by Michael Saltsman, they should recognize the real agenda of ‘fiscally-conservative’ think tanks like the Employment Policies Institute, which is to preserve profitability on the backs of those who can’t help themselves. [“Sick-leave pay not a cure-all,” Opinion, Aug. 20.](continue)

Steve Hawley, Issaquah

EOI’s Marilyn Watkins, who helped lead the campaign for paid sick days in Seattle and is now advocating for paid leave across Washington, also submitted a letter to The Times which ran in Sunday’s print edition.

Sick-leave helps people

No one wants to be served by a sick waiter. No sick child should languish in the school nurse’s office because their parent can’t leave work.

Now, a year after Seattle’s sick-leave law went into effect, we can be confident that workers in our city at least have the option of staying home when the flu strikes.

Michael Saltsman’s swipe at Seattle’s law cites a survey of selected businesses, about one-third of whom believed sick leave would increase future costs. But he provides no evidence that it actually does.

The New York Times has described the Employment Policies Institute that did the survey as a “business-backed nonprofit that … argues against a higher minimum wage,” whose industry donors include chain restaurants.

It’s too early to have good data on the impacts of the sick-leave law on jobs and public health. Meanwhile, Seattle’s economy is the best in the state, and workers having reliable family income can only help.

Marilyn Watkins, policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute, Seattle

Seattle’s local media also responded to the attacks. Reporter David Goldstein, writing for The Stranger, called out EPI for its corporate backings and despicable funding source:

Although the Seattle Times describes EPI as a “nonprofit research organization,” it’s really anything but. In fact, EPI is nothing more than just one of about two dozen front groups created by DC-based corporate lobbyist Richard Berman, a Beltway-insider notorious for his take-no-prisoners tactics, and his all-out assaults on such enemies of freedom as Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society.

The Capitol Hill Seattle Blog also picked up the story and checked in with local businesses to see how the sick-leave law had impacted their bottom lines. The answer? It hadn’t.

CHS talked to three Capitol Hill business owners who said implementing Seattle’s paid sick leave regulations hasn’t hurt their bottom line much at all…

Local chain MOD Pizza did not offer paid sick leave to its employees before the measure passed, but Chris Schultz, vice president of operations, said the ordinance caused the company to re-evaluate its policy. MOD Pizza now offers full paid sick leave to employees at all of its stores throughout the state of Washington…

If employees are comfortable in their working environment they will be less likely to abuse the policy, Schultz said.

“Folks want to come to work,” he said. “It’s not like they’re intentionally trying to take time off.”

“They like their jobs,” [Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream owner Molly Moon] Neitzel said. “We take care of them and in turn they’re great employees.”

As for the estimated 65.4% of businesses that do not offer paid sick leave to their employees?

“I want to know what those businesses are so I don’t go eat there,” Neitzel said.

Originally published at EOI Online