Issue: Washington’s Senate has passed SB 5659 to establish a family leave insurance program for all workers in the state. The bill now awaits action in the House, where it has died twice before.
Background: In contrast to most other countries, workers in the United States have no rights to paid leave from work. Today most parents are in the workforce, and one in four workers has care responsibilities for an elderly parent. Yet nearly half of U.S. workers do not get a single day of paid sick leave, and one quarter get no vacation. Low income, service industry, and part-time workers are particularly unlikely to receive any paid leave benefits. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), workers in larger companies have the right to up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off for the birth or adoption of a child, to care for a seriously ill family member, or for their own serious health condition. The FMLA was the first act Bill Clinton signed into law and is one of the most popular legacies of his presidency. However, workers in companies with fewer than 50 employees — over 40 percent of the workforce — do not receive even the minimal protections of FMLA, and far too many families simply cannot afford to take unpaid leave.
SB 5659 would mark a big step forward for working families in Washington. It would establish a family leave insurance program that would provide up to five weeks of paid leave annually to care for a new child or seriously ill family member. Benefits would be $250 per week, pro-rated for part-time workers. Funding would come from a two cent per hour premium, paid by workers — about $3.50 per month, or $40 per year.
California has successfully operated a similar program since 2004, and five states have provided temporary disability insurance and maternity disability to all workers for decades. We know these programs work.
Paid family leave will insure that all children born in Washington get the best possible start in life. It will insure that when a spouse is diagnosed with cancer or a parent has a stroke, a family member can take the time off work needed to provide care and support.
Many businesses are supporting this legislation, knowing that it will boost morale and productivity, lower turnover and retraining costs, and add to business profitability. Yet major business lobbyists are out in force trying to kill the bill, claiming it will harm businesses and drive employers out of the state. The same groundless claims were made prior to passage of the FMLA, yet the U.S. economy boomed for eight years after that bill was adopted.
The Washington Senate passed SB 5659 with a bi-partisan vote of 32-17. Key House leadership and the Governor have not yet committed to passing the bill.
Action: Urge your two state Representatives and Gov. Gregoire to pass SB 5659 to establish family leave insurance this year.
To identify and e-mail your Representatives, go to apps.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/Default.aspx
Toll free legislative hotline (provide your address, and they will forward your message to your Representatives) 1-800-562-6000
Call or e-mail Gov. Gregoire: (360) 902-4111 or www.governor.wa.gov/contact/default.asp.
For copy of actual issue, go to https://www.realchangenews.org/2007/03/28/mar-28-2007-entire-issue