Paid Family and Medical Leave
Federal family leave laws guarantee only unpaid time off, and nearly half of all workers don’t even qualify for that, risking the health of children and aging parents.
To tackle the problem, EOI brought together organizations representing seniors, women, labor, health professionals, children, faith communities, low income workers and employers – the Washington Work and Family Coalition – to update the state’s workplace standards to meet the needs of today’s families and businesses.
The coalition worked for almost two decades, and in 2017, Washington State passed a paid family and medical leave law which allows up to 16 weeks of paid family and medical leave, or 18 if it includes a pregnancy complication. Benefits will begin in 2020, covering 3.3 million workers.
Paid Sick and Safe Days
No one should have to choose between working sick and losing a day’s pay – or their job.
EOI brought together representatives from public health groups, businesses, unions and community organizations to establish paid sick days in cities across the state. We were successful in Seattle in 2011, SeaTac in 2013, Tacoma in 2015, and Spokane in 2016.
Then EOI backed Initiative 1433, which was passed by voters in November 2016, enabling paid sick days for workers across the state. Paid sick days can be used to care for one’s own health condition, for a family member’s illness, and for protection against domestic abuse. Benefits began in 2018.
Early Childhood Educator Career and Wage Ladder
High-quality teachers transform childcare into an environment where early learning blossoms, boosting a child’s health, improving social cooperation and individual initiative, and improving their chances for success later in life.
In 1998, EOI set out with labor leaders, childcare center providers and parents to find a way to improve pay and training for teachers, keeping high-quality staff on the job. The result was the Early Childhood Educator Career and Wage Ladder. The program provided wage incentives for early childhood educators to pursue higher education relevant to their work and to excel in their chosen field. It was an immediate success. With $12 million in funding from 2000-2003, approximately 125 centers implemented the Ladder, covering 1,500 employees caring for 15,000 children.
Funding for the program was cut short when the state faced prolonged budget deficits – but when the economic tide turned, EOI, AFT Washington and other allies lobbied for restoration. Lawmakers responded by putting the Ladder into state statute. Ongoing budget allocations from 2007 to 2011 covered more than 70 centers.
Progressive State Estate Tax
Congress voted in June 2001 to phase out the federal estate tax over the next decade and to undermine state estate taxes. In response, EOI worked with Bill Gates Sr. in successfully urging the state legislature to pass a standalone state estate tax. This new tax supports k-12 and higher education. In 2006, our policy research and media outreach helped win the fight to preserve Washington’s estate tax, defeating a statewide initiative to repeal it.
Through this legislative action and popular vote, Washington has the most progressive state estate tax in the nation – in fact it is our only progressive tax.
As reforms to federal welfare programs unfolded in the late 1990s, people with the greatest barriers to employment faced losing financial support, without the skills and services they needed to find and keep a job.
In response, as one of its early projects, EOI helped design and implement the Community Jobs program in 1999, an innovative public-private partnership administered by the Washington State Office of Trade & Economic Development. Community Jobswas the first program of its kind in the nation to provide welfare recipients with paychecks for their work in the public and nonprofit sectors. Participants worked at least 20 hours per week, while utilizing wrap-around counseling, GED and ESL classes, childcare, and transportation services.
The partnership between EOI, Washington state agencies, community organizations and private sector employers helped build CJ into one of the most successful welfare-to-work programs in the country. As other states and localities began similar programs, EOI helped found the Transitional Jobs Network to share best practices, provide technical assistance, and advocate for increased federal funding for job advancement programs across the nation.
Cigarette Tax for Health Care
In the late 1980s, Washington State took a major step forward to improve health care coverage by creating the Basic Health Plan (BHP), which provided basic health insurance to low-income working families. But after a decade of chronic underfunding, in 2001, only 125,000 people were enrolled in the plan, leaving hundreds of thousands of workers with inadequate health coverage – or none at all.
EOI responded by spearheading policy research and design for Initiative 773, and building a coalition of health care activists and organizations, including the Community Health Plan of Washington, Group Health Cooperative and the American Lung Association, to promote the initiative.
Passed by Washington voters with a 2 to 1 majority, I-773 increased taxes on cigarettes, directing the proceeds into the BHP to provide additional coverage for low-income adults and children. The increased tax brought another benefit: the state’s youth smoking rate declined by nearly 50 percent.
During the 2003 recession, Washington legislators reallocated state funds. The BHP suffered deep budget cuts But without I-773, the BHP would not have survived that budget crisis at all. Hundreds of thousands of Washingtonians – including 105,500 individuals enrolled in the BHP in 2008 – would have no health coverage. Further, the BHP provided Washington state with the experience and policy platform for implementation of the Affordable Care Act, beginning in 2012.
In 1998, EOI joined the Washington State Labor Council and dozens of other organizations and businesses to support Initiative 688, the Paycheck Protection Act, which proposed boosting the state’s minimum wage and implementing the nation’s first automatic cost-of-living adjustment for the minimum wage.
Passage of the measure – approved by majorities in every one of Washington’s 39 counties – was a national political landmark. Since then, 24 states have increased their minimum wage above the federal level. Nine other states and one city have followed Washington’s lead, adding annual inflation adjustments to their minimum wages.
The minimum wage in Washington will increase from $4.90 in 1998 to $13.50 in 2020.
Social Security Protection
In the 1990s, a growing number of employers defaulted on their pension plans, and political moves to privatize Social Security gained momentum. For the first time in generations, the promise of a secure and dignified retirement after a lifetime of hard work seemed to fade.
Working with the national Economic Policy Institute, unions and women’s organizations, EOI began a statewide campaign to educate Washington citizens about the dangers of Social Security privatization. We delved into the data and showed Social Security was – and is – on sound financial footing far into the future.
Especially in light of today’s economic turbulence, we’re proud to say that our efforts, combined with those of others, paid off. Social Security is the bedrock for millions of American workers, children and families, and will continue to be so for generations to come. Our intent now is to develop and propose policy changes to increase Social Security benefits.
Progressive Income Tax
Just a few months after EOI and the Trump-Proof Seattle Coalition proposed a tax on the wealthy, the Seattle City Council unanimously passed a progressive income tax on July 10, 2017 to help finance priorities which include housing for the homeless, providing transit, offsetting federal budget cuts, and reducing current regressive taxes, such as property, B&O or sales taxes.
The legislation will place a 2.25 percent tax rate on income over $250,000 a year for individuals, or $500,000 for married couples filing jointly. It is currently working its way to the Washington Supreme Court, where the city and EOI seek to overturn a 1930s ruling limiting progressive taxes.
Retirement Security Accounts
But Social Security alone is not enough. About half of all working Americans are not covered by a retirement plan at their place of work. Employees of small- and medium-sized businesses are at the greatest risk of not having a retirement program.
Working in tandem with the Center for Economic Policy Research and national pension experts, EOI has developed an innovative proposal, dubbed Retirement Security Accounts (RSAs), to provide Washington workers and small businesses with the option of a professionally managed, portable retirement plan.
In 2018, Washington launched the new Retirement Marketplace, allowing workers and employers to save for retirement with ease. In the retirement exchange, workers and employers can choose from several plans. They enable you to put your retirement savings in an IRA or a 401(k). Administrative fees for these plans add up to less than two-tenths of a percent of the value of your account. There is no fee for enrollment, no rollover fee, no annual fees. You can save as little as $20 a month.