A wave of bills passed today by the Republican majority in the Senate represent a multi-pronged attack on middle-class employees and their families in communities across the state, Senate Democrats said today.
A package of bills hostile to middle-class wage earners were muscled through the Senate on predominantly partisan votes through the early evening, with more expected as the night wore on.
Senate Bill 5726 would block the city of Seattle or any other local government from requiring paid sick leave for employees who work inside the limits of the city or spend at least six weeks working within the limits.
“This bill is about public health and public safety and what kind of communities we want to live in,” said Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, the committee’s ranking Democratic member. “This is about whether we think people should be forced to work when they’re ill or face the loss of a day’s pay. This is about how we think middle class workers should be treated and whether we care about the safety of those who work around them.”
Sen. Karen Keiser, another member of the committee, agreed.
“This is about fundamental public safety,” the Kent Democrat said. “Sick child care workers are not safe for the children in their care. Sick machinery workers are not safe machinery workers. Pressuring people to work when they’re sick just makes them worse and risks the health of everyone around them.”
The second bill, SB 5158, would exempt businesses that underpay their workers from having to reimburse the balance of the wages they were legally bound to pay.
“This bill would make employees pay for their employers’ mistakes,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Beacon Hill. “What’s worse, it hits the workers to whom each dollar means the most: those who earn minimum wage.”
Under current law, employers who underpay their employees must reimburse the difference but may forgo penalties if the pay inequity was unintentional. Under SB 5158, they would not have to pay the difference in wages their employees were due. The bill passed on a 25-24, caucus-line vote.
“Just as an employer expects a day’s work for a day’s pay, their employees expect a day’s pay for a day’s work — Not most of a day’s pay or part of a day’s pay — a full day’s pay,” said Conway. “This bill lets employers underpay their employees without any recourse for the employees.”
SB 5107 would reduce the wages paid on projects that have a mixed residential and commercial use.
“This is just a wage cut for middle-class workers, plain and simple,” Hasegawa said. “At a time when we’re coming out of a recession and working families need to stretch every dollar, this bill takes dollars right out of their pockets.”
Rather than require the commercial prevailing wage on such projects, the bill would let the employer pay a mix of commercial and residential wages and redefines residential to include utilities, streets and sidewalks which are clearly public works. The bill passed 26-23 on a near-perfect caucus-line vote.
“Wages are driven not by the most simple tasks an employee undertakes but the most sophisticated,” Keiser said. “You wouldn’t pay a heart surgeon less, for instance, just because a portion of a procedure is routine.”
Other bills slated for late evening action include a proposal to repeal the state’s paid family leave act.
“These bills attack the foundation of family wage jobs in our state,” Conway said. “We should be building family wage jobs, not tearing them down.”
For information: Rick Manugian, Senate Democratic Communications, 360-786-7569
For interviews: Sen. Steve Conway, 360-786-7656
Sen. Karen Keiser, 360-786-7664
Sen. Bob Hasegawa, 360-786-7616