Burbank: Paid family leave law a victory of bipartisanship

By John Burbank

Twenty-eight years ago, a freshman senator in the state Legislature, Patty Murray, dismissed as just a “mom in tennis shoes” but now the state’s senior U.S. senator, shepherded through the Capitol the family and medical leave act, with the support and leadership of then-Speaker Joe King, Rep. Jay Inslee, Rep. Maria Cantwell, and the Washington State Labor Council.

This became the template for the federal family and medical leave act signed by President Clinton in 1993. Finally the government recognized that workers had a right to take leave to care for their newborn and newly adopted children and seriously ill family members. It was a small step. It only applied to companies with more than 50 employees. It had no mechanism for compensation while on family leave.

Now the people of Washington and their elected leaders have since pushed further. We are part of a new trend for worker and family protections, being only the fifth state to guarantee paid family and medical leave.

Last week, Gov. Inslee signed a bill in which the Legislature created the best paid family and medical leave in the country. Starting in 2020, every worker will be entitled to 12 weeks of leave for a worker’s own serious medical condition, and 12 weeks to care for a newborn, adopted child or family member — up to a total of 16 weeks. If a woman has complications from pregnancy, she is eligible for an additional two weeks.

The benefit amount will be determined on a progressive scale — a first in the United States — with low-wage workers receiving up to 90 percent of their wages while on leave, and an overall cap of $1,000 per week. Once a worker qualifies for the program, the worker can change jobs without losing coverage. That portability will better accommodate a modern workforce where workers change jobs with increasing frequency.

Like Social Security and Medicare taxes, both Washington State workers and companies will contribute to the leave fund through their taxes with a 0.4 percent tax. For example, someone making $54,000 will pay $2.62 per week. Companies with fewer than 50 employees are exempt from these employer contributions.

That’s how we in Washington state put family values to work! Just as Washington’s 1989 bill became the model for federal action, this new law is already being heralded as a template for legislation in other states and nationally. The Seattle Times calls it “among the most generous in the nation.” WBUR radio in Boston says Washington’s law begs for a national “debate around an idea whose time may have come.” And check out this quote from the New York Times’ coverage of the new law:

“We don’t see this as an alternative to federal policy; we see this as a way to get a federal bill,” said Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values@Work, a network of state advocacy groups. “It creates an imbalance where a certain number of people have it and others say, ‘We want it.’”

This was a bipartisan effort. Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett; Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Des Moines; and Sen. Marko Liias, D-Everett, have been working for a paid family and medical leave law for years. This year, the savvy determination and moral suasion of Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and the willingness of local business groups to come to the table to really negotiate was the key to this legislative victory for working families. This is not just a bill created by liberal groups like MomsRising, Legal Voice, the Washington State Labor Council, and the Economic Opportunity Institute, but also featured the input of the Association of Washington Business, the Washington Retail Association, the Washington Hospitality Association, and the NW Grocery Association.

These leaders taught a lesson in how we could do politics and make policy in our country: instead of yelling at each other and locking one party out of decision-making, we can progress with true bipartisanship. All of us, and perhaps especially elected leaders in Washington DC, could learn something from Washington State’s success!

John Burbank is the executive director of the Economic Opportunity Institute, www.eoionline.org. Email him at john@eoionline.org.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Sunday, Nov. 27

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

A floating offshore wind turbine platform is part of a six-turbine, 50 megawatt wind farm off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland. (Starkraft)
Editorial: Answer for environment, maritime jobs blowing in wind

Floating offshore wind farms could be a boon for maritime employers like Everett’s Dunlap Towing.

FILE - Activists hold signs for 1.5 degrees Celsius for Peace during a session at the COP27 U.N. Climate Summit, Nov. 17, 2022, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. (AP Photo/Nariman El-Mofty, File)
Comment: Why the world must keep its goal of 1.5 alive

The pace of efforts to reduce carbon emissions may not meet the 1.5 C limit set. Here’s what’s needed.

Comment: Future of Native sovereignty and children at stake

A Supreme Court case threatens to continue the harms of boarding schools on tribal culture.

Comment: Capital gains tax will give back to kids, families

The tax, passed in 2021, will help fund child care, preschool and K-12 education programs families need.

Everett, county should participate in state shelter program

There is a little secret that seems to be forgotten when we… Continue reading

toon
Editorial cartoons for Saturday, Nov. 26

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Krista and Eric Brown are the owners of The Grape & Grain bottle shop in Everett. (Jon Bauer / The Herald
Editorial: A big way to support small businesses, communities

Small Business Saturday is your invitation to help small businesses, their employees and your town.

Security guard Austin MacMath wears a gun on his belt, Tuesday, April 19, 2022, while working outside Mary Mart, a marijuana store in Tacoma, Wash. A surge in robberies at licensed cannabis shops in Washington state is helping fuel a renewed push for federal banking reforms that would make the cash-dependent stores a less appealing target. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Editorial: Reduce cannabis business as target for crime

With time short, the U.S. Senate can pass an act that would limit the lure of cash from shops.

Most Read