Elections have consequences. Last November, a hard-fought labor-backed campaign put Democrats back in charge of the Washington Senate. That one-vote majority — plus a narrow majority in the House and a Democratic governor — means an end to five years of legislative gridlock, and new life for bills that could help working people.
The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee — which last year took testimony on an anti-union “right-to-work” bill — is now chaired by Sen. Karen Keiser (D-Kent), the former communications director of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. She’s now queuing up legislation that last year passed the House only to be killed by Senate Republicans.
Several pro-worker bills were already moving, with hearings held just days after the 2018 legislative session’s Jan. 8 opening:
- Equal pay SB 5140, sponsored by State Senator Annette Cleveland (D-Vancouver), would address gender-based income disparities by prohibiting pay secrecy policies, allowing workers to discuss wages, and prohibit retaliation when workers ask for equal pay.
- Jobs and infrastructure Last year’s legislative gridlock prevented passage of $4 billion worth of job-creating public infrastructure projects. Now that capital construction budget bill (HB 1075) is moving.
- Ban the box SB 6110, sponsored by state senator Rebecca Saldaña, would bar employers from asking about arrests or convictions until after an applicant is determined otherwise qualified for a position.
- Protect exposed Hanford workers Hanford workers are cleaning up one of the most toxic places on Earth and are routinely exposed to dangerous chemicals and radioactive materials. So when they’re diagnosed with cancers and illnesses that are linked to such exposure, they shouldn’t have to trace their illness to a specific incident or prove their job contributed in order to access the workers’ compensation safety net. SB 5940, sponsored by Sen. Keiser, would create a presumption that those illnesses are work-related for Hanford workers.
Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, is hoping to make the most of 2018’s 60-day legislative session, and announced its legislative priorities Jan. 3. Here are some of the highlights of its “Shared Prosperity Agenda.”
- No more non-competes Prohibiting “non-compete” agreements that unjustly block workers from seeking better jobs in their industry.
- Drug price transparency Requiring drug companies to provide transparency and disclose reasons for price hikes.
- A public infrastructure bank Establishing a state infrastructure bank to help local governments finance projects — instead of sending tax dollars to Wall Street to finance public infrastructure. Profits on the loans would fund more projects.
- Prevent pesticide exposure Adopting modern record keeping, notification and reporting requirements to help prevent workers and residents in agricultural communities from being exposed to and their negative health impacts.
- Public option health insurance Establishing a public health insurance offering to compete with private insurance and bring rates down, increasing access and quality of care.
- Rest for hospital workers Ensuring that healthcare facilities give nurses and technical workers access to the breaks and overtime they have earned.
- Expand collective bargaining rights Allowing professional port employees, part time workers, and interpreters to have the same rights to join unions as other public workers.
The 2018 legislative session session is scheduled to run through March 8.