Tag: Joe Fain

Gonzalez Holds Out Hope for State Family Leave Plan

Over at Seattle Magazine, I took a closer look at council member Lorena Gonzalez’s plan for paid family leave for private employers in Seattle. Gonzalez told me she remains optimistic that lawmakers will come up with a compromise statewide plan that will adequately cover Seattle workers, but that if they don’t, she’ll move forward with a city plan. That’s if Republican Joe Fain’s proposal is unsuccessful; it would provide a very limited form of employee-funded family leave and prevent cities, like Seattle, from passing more generous benefits of their own. 

The numbers are stark. According to a survey conducted for the City of Seattle by Maggie Simich of Patinkin Research, a Portland-based consulting firm, 41 percent of Seattle residents lack access to paid parental leave. Half of all companies offer no paid parental leave at all. Workers in the lowest-paying industries, such as restaurant workers, hotel employees, and education were the least likely to receive paid leave. And the smaller a company is, the less likely it is to offer paid family leave.

City council member Lorena Gonzalez hopes to improve those statistics. Last month, she released a “proposed policy model”—a framework for future legislation—for paid family leave in Seattle that would require private employers to provide up to 26 weeks of paid family leave for new parents and employees who need time off to take care of family members, and up to 12 weeks of paid medical leave for employees with a serious illness. The benefits would kick in after an employee has worked 340 hours (about two and a half months for full-time employees and longer for part-time) for a business, and would pay 100 percent of a workers’ wages up to $1,000 a week.

Earlier this year, the city council adopted legislation guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid parental leave to City of Seattle employees, but expanding family leave to private employees is already proving more controversial. The opposition comes not from Seattle businesses, which met with Gonzalez for months before she rolled out her policy model and are generally on board with Gonzalez’ proposed framework—but from Republicans in Olympia, who have proposed their own family leave law that would provide fewer benefits and preempt Seattle from adopting its own more generous leave policy.

The Republican-backed family leave bill, sponsored by 47th District Sen. Joe Fain, of Auburn, would have provide up to eight weeks of family leave, increasing up to a maximum of 12 weeks by 2023. Under the Fain proposal, employees who opt to take time off to care for newborns or sick family members would be paid just half of their regular wages (rising to a maximum of 67 percent in 2023), and the program would be funded entirely by employees’ own contributions, making it more of a self-insurance policy than an employer-provided benefit. It also requires employees to work for 26 consecutive weeks for a single employer before they receive benefits.

That bill didn’t make it through committee during the regular 2017 legislative session, but could be revived during the special session that is currently underway.

“It just leaves a lot of people out who are going to end up paying the premium but are never going to meet the qualification to get leave,” Marilyn Watkins, policy director for the left-leaning Economic Opportunity Institute, said when Fain introduced the bill in February. “Why should we put things in there that we know are going to be problems—that we know are going to cause inequities?”

Gonzalez is careful to say that she has no interest in proposing local legislation until legislators have finished their own negotiations over a statewide bill. “I am working really closely with communities and with labor advocates and with state representatives to try to deliver a paid family leave program for all working families in Washington State, including those in Seattle,” Gonzalez says.

“I prefer strongly that this policy would be a statewide policy and want to provide my colleagues and advocates at the state level an opportunity to see if they can deliver that type of a program to all working families. “I won’t be entertaining a timeline of any sort until I’ve had an opportunity to hear from labor advocates and our state delegation as to where the negotiations [on a compromise bill] are going,” Gonzalez says.

Morning Crank: Half a Loaf

sen-joe-fain
Sen. Joe Fain (R-47)

1. City council member Lorena Gonzalez reportedly hopes to introduce legislation in the next few weeks that would require businesses to provide paid family leave to their employees—a significant expansion of a new law, adopted on Monday after a months-long delay, guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid parental leave to city employees. (Employees who need time off to care for other family members can receive up to four weeks off).

Expanding family leave to private employees—as Gonzalez talked about doing when she ran for office in 2015—would likely be far more controversial, especially among small businesses and those that primarily employ service workers, than the city-employee-only law. But the real opposition may come from Olympia, where state legislators are considering a fairly toothless family leave bill that includes a preemption clause that prevents any city from adopting a family leave policy more generous than what the state requires.

The Republican-backed bill, sponsored by 47th District Sen. Joe Fain, would provide up to eight weeks of family leave, increasing up to a maximum of 12 weeks by 2023. Employees who took the time off would be paid just half of their regular wages (rising to a maximum of 67 percent in 2023), and the program would be funded entirely by employees’ own contributions, making it more of a self-insurance policy than an actual benefit. It also requires employees to work for 26 consecutive weeks for a single employer before they receive benefits—a requirement that Economic Opportunity Institute policy director Marilyn Watkins says doesn’t acknowledge the current economic reality, where many people work multiple jobs or switch employers frequently. “It just leaves a lot of people out who are going to end up paying the premium but are never going to meet the qualification to get leave,” Watkins says. “Why should we put things in there that we know are going to be problems—that we know are going to cause inequities?”

According to the bill, “Cities, towns, and counties or other municipalities may enact only those laws and ordinances relating to paid family leave that are specifically authorized by state law and are consistent with this chapter. Local laws and ordinances in existence on the effective date of this section that are inconsistent with this chapter are preempted and repealed.” That means that if the bill passes, any city law providing more leave (and it wouldn’t be hard) will be repealed.

Preemption bills like this aren’t uncommon; they pop up pretty much any time  Seattle passes or discusses progressive policies, such as rules allowing safe-injection sites, encampment sweeps policies that Republicans view as soft on homelessness, or a $15 minimum wage. What could be different this year is that Fain’s bill has bipartisan support; in addition to the usual Republican suspects like Michael Baumgartner (R-6) and Mark Miloscia (R-30), the bill is sponsored by Democrats like Steve Hobbs (D-44) and Guy Palumbo (D-1). A competing bill, sponsored by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-33), would provide more extensive benefits and does not include a preemption clause.

Fain said at a hearing last month that he hopes advocates recognize that “nobody ever went hungry on half a loaf”—meaning, some progress toward true paid family leave is better than none. But advocates may decide they want a full loaf after all, and take the family leave issue directly to voters if legislators offer them only crumbs.

2.  Miller Park Neighbors member Jonathan Swift, who emceed a Wednesday-night prep session for an upcoming city-sponsored meeting about proposed upzones in Northeast Capitol Hill—said he was interested in a balanced discussion. Then he characterized the two sides in the zoning debate as those who liked neighborhood character and those who didn’t. (A flyer distributed with anti-upzone talking points drove the point home, claiming that the  city’s proposal, part of the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA), would “destroy the character of the neighborhood” and asserting that “family-sized housing is most appropriate.” )

Anti-HALA architect Greg Hill followed the soft-spoken Swit, telling the crowd of about 100 people that HALA was dominated by an unnamed “right-wing” group and insinuating that HALA, which calls for expanding the city’s urban villages and allowing more multifamily housing along transit corridors, is a sinister, profit-driven developer plot that will decimate Seattle’s environment by reducing the city’s tree canopy. In reality, building housing near transit is the definition of green urbanism, reducing reliance on cars, maximizing energy efficiency, and reducing water usage.

One of the few African-American people in the room—as HALA pointed out, single-family zoning tends to exclude people of color from “character”-filled neighborhoods like Northeast Capitol Hill—was Spencer Williams, a staffer for urbanist city council member Rob Johnson. Johnson has openly criticized Seattle’s brand of reactionary utopianism, which stars NPR-style liberals who denounce Trump for wanting to build a wall to keep newcomers out while defending zoning codes that have the same effect.

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