Paid Sick Leave Compromise Bill Emerges

Paid Sick Leave Compromise Bill Emerges
Emergence in the Washington State Senate of a bipartisan compromise bill on paid family and sick leave has encouraged employers. Photo: Taomeister

Bipartisan sponsors and employer stakeholders Monday, January 30 came together around a compromise bill on paid family and sick leave, at a hearing of the Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee.

Sponsored by State Sen. Joe Fain (R-47), with bipartisan co-sponsors including State Sens. Steve Hobbs (D-44), John Braun (R-20), Guy Palumbo (D-1), Michael Baumgartner (R-6) and Judy Warnick (R-13), SB 5149 considerably tempers the impacts on employers of two companion bills on paid sick and family leave that were introduced earlier this session.

An Employee-Funded Alternative

Benefits under the new measure would be funded by employees through premiums deducted from paychecks, versus a 50-50 cost split between workers and employers in HB 1116 and SB 5032. Those are the companion bills introduced earlier this month with only Democratic sponsors.

The twinned measures capped benefits at a generous 38 weeks per year, with a weekly per-employee pay-out limit hovering around $1,000.

Under SB 5149, workers in the first three years after enactment could claim up to eight weeks of benefits at 50 percent of their average weekly wage, not exceeding the state’s average. Beginning in 2023, employees could claim up to 12 weeks of pay at 67 percent of their weekly average.

The benefits apply to serious illness of a worker or family member; birth of a child; placement of a foster or adopted child; or a military exigency.

All three measures would offer employees additional paid leave time above and beyond what is required by 2018 in Initiative 1433, at one hour paid sick leave per 40 hours worked.

Fain: A ‘Workable’ Alternative

Fain told the committee, “There have been philosophical disagreements whether or not this is the state’s responsibility…there’s never really been an attempt to get across the finish line and put something in place that is workable and actually benefits families.”

State Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33) is prime sponsor of SB 5032. She told the Senate Commerce, Labor and Sports Committee, “We have been working in coalitions on this issue for almost 20 years and I am thrilled to see consensus beginning to form…”

Keiser added, “The approach I’ve taken in 5032 is a more progressive approach…the low wage workers, the minimum wage workers, would have a benefit that would be closer to their actual wage…”

Nicole Booker, a member of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 21, voiced support for Keiser’s bill, saying eight weeks leave wasn’t enough for her after childbirth.

However, employer groups strongly supported the bipartisan alternative.

Cost Controls Key

Josh Weiss, Director of Policy and Legislative Relations for the Washington State Association of Counties, said, “Counties provide very rich sick leave benefits already. We are public employers; we recognize the importance of these kinds of benefits. However…5032 is a very aggressive approach…it is basically the cost to the employer that is concerning for us.”

Weiss added, “Essentially, the problem for counties is that we have costs that are growing at a very fast rate, we have revenues that are not keeping up with those costs, and the legislature likes very much to pass legislation that increases those costs, and is more hesitant to give us authority that can help us with our revenues…We essentially have no way to absorb the costs that measures like 5032 would increase for us.”

Holly Johnson, Government Relations Director for the Washington Food Industry Association, said the association was in favor of SB 5149, but was opposed to Keiser’s measure.

She said, “We do not oppose a paid family leave. Our members do wish that they could provide that service for every single employee that they have, but for my members, 5032 would make that impossible…with paid sick leave, the replacement cost for workers, the training and the administrative costs are significant for every employer…those costs need to be taken into account…”

Carolyn Logue, contract lobbyist for the Washington Retail Association, said, “we already have a lot of costs that go along with someone that takes leave because…we end up having to bear the cost of hiring somebody to replace them.” Logue added, “We like the idea of 5149 because what it does is it says this is an employee insurance program for the employee’s personal situation.”

On January 23, HB 1116 passed the Labor and Workplace Standards Committee and was referred to Appropriations. No dates have been set yet for Senate committee votes on either SB 5149 or SB 5032.

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