Paid sick days bill debated in state Senate hearing

The Washington State Senate Commerce and Labor Committee heard three bills on the issue of paid sick leave yesterday.

committee hearing

Workers voice their support for a bill to expand Seattle paid sick days law statewide to the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee

One of the bills, Senate bill 5594 sponsored by Sen. Nick Harper, would ensure all workers in Washington state could earn paid sick and safe leave at work. Currently, only workers in Seattle are guaranteed the right to stay home when they or their child is sick thanks to implementation of Seattle’s landmark Paid Sick and Safe Leave ordinance in September 2012.

The two other bills, Senate bills 5726 and 5728, go in the opposite direction. SB 5726 would exempt businesses that also have locations outside Seattle, including big businesses like Burger King. The other, SB 5728, would be an outright preemption of the Seattle law – taking away paid sick days from Seattle workers and prohibiting any other city in the state from passing such a law.

Nick Licata, the Seattle City Council Member who sponsored Seattle’s sick leave ordinance, testified against Senate Bills 5726 and 5728 and spoke of the common-ground proposal developed between workers, business owners and community groups. “The state of Connecticut, San Francisco, and Washington D.C. all have similar such laws,” he said. “[The final proposal] came about after a group of small business owners sat down with public health advocates, labor unions, and others, to develop a proposal based on their shared common ground… there were compromises made all-around to create a healthy environment for employees, small businesses, and the community-at-large.”

Boris Popovich, with the small business association the Main Street Alliance, read quotes from fellow business owners who supported expanding paid sick days statewide, and against the hyperbole from big business lobbyists: “Despite all the expensive talking points you will hear, Seattle’s sick days policy is something that Seattle’s small businesses helped create.”

Robin Fleming of the Washington State Nurses Association, voiced her support for paid sick days by saying, “There are far too many times when children are unable to go home because no one can pick them up. I had children cry and beg me not to call their parents as they were burning up with fever because they knew that their parents would get fired or would not get paid… kids with fevers, migraine headaches, seizures, infections, sever vomiting, and other illnesses were forced to stay at school.”

Opponents of sick and safe leave, representing both national corporations and statewide business associations, testified that the process of tracking employees who enter and exit Seattle is expensive and burdensome to business.

The Senate committee will consider the bills and vote on them next week.

By EOI Intern Marcus Sweetser

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