Wins for Workers
Paid Family and Medical Leave
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 began in 2020, covering 3.3 million workers.
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 boosted the state’s minimum wage and implemented 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, and nine states and one city followed Washington’s lead by adding annual inflation adjustments to their minimum wages. Years later, with Washington’s cost of living outpacing inflation, EOI again worked with community allies to help pass Initiative 1433. The resulting increases – to $13.50/hour in 2020, inflation-adjusted in years following – are providing much-needed compensation to low-wage workers across the state.
In 2019, EOI contributed important policy analysis expertise and outreach to support a major change in Washington Administrative Code regulations governing who is covered by overtime and paid sick and safe leave laws. The minimum salary threshold to be exempt from overtime and sick leave protections began gradually rising in 2020 and will reach 2.5 times Washington’s minimum wage in 2028, making Washington’s protections the strongest in the nation.
The EOI-led Equal Pay and Opportunity Act went into effect on June 7, 2018, ending pay secrecy policies and requiring employers to provide job-related reasons for differences in pay and opportunity. The new rights granted under this act protect and support workers as they identify wage discrimination and advocate for their deserved pay and opportunity. It will help combat Washington’s wage gaps – among the worst in the nation – which perpetuate discrimination against women, people of color, and the LGBTQ community.
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.
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 Job was 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.