By MALLORY GRUBEN
Washington’s 2023 legislative session concluded April 23 with wins for worker safety, workers compensation, and affordable housing. Several bills backed by the Washington State Labor Council made their way to Governor Jay Inslee’s desk, and at least six already had his signature by the end of the 105-day “long session.” Here are some labor highlights from the session:
- SAFE HOSPITAL STAFFING: Nurses and hospital administrators worked together on Senate Bill 5236, which creates staffing committees to determine how many nurses to assign to each patient care unit. The bill requires hospitals to submit staffing reports to the state Department of Health, and it sets fines for hospitals that don’t make or follow their plans. It passed as part of a suite of healthcare bills that included Senate Bill 5454, which makes post-traumatic stress disorder a presumptive occupational disease for healthcare workers.
- SELF-INSURED WORKERS COMP: House Bill 1521 adds a duty of good faith and fair dealing to workers’ compensation claims handled by some self-insured employers. That should make it easier for public sector workers and firefighters to receive their benefits, instead of getting the run-around from an employer looking to save money. The final bill excludes self-insured employers in the private sector, like Boeing, but labor leaders expect to ask for an expansion next session, Kendo said.
- HOUSING: Inslee touted 2023 as a “big-time housing session.” Lawmakers passed a measure to speed up permitting and a measure that allows multi-family units in neighborhoods previously zoned for single family homes. Kendo said WSLC leaned in on housing this year because rapidly rising housing costs directly affect workers, who find it harder to afford a place to live.
- WAREHOUSE WORKER PROTECTIONS: Teamsters took on Amazon and won with House Bill 1762, Kendo said. The measure requires certain warehouse distribution centers, including Amazon, to provide workers with information about work quotas and expected work speeds. Those expectations must allow for meal, rest, and bathroom breaks. HB 1762 also gives L&I authority to investigate and enforce the rules, including through fines.
- PREVENTING MUSCULOSKELETAL INJURIES: Senate Bill 5217 restores the Department of Labor and Industry’s ability to make rules to prevent work-related musculoskeletal injuries like strains, dislocations, or carpal tunnel. L&I lost that authority 20 years ago when a business association-backed initiative passed, repealing existing rules and prohibiting future regulations. WSLC Chief of Staff Joe Kendo said SB 5217 still limits when and how L&I can make ergonomic rules, but it will go a long way in preventing injuries for janitors, truck drivers, warehouse workers, and others in jobs prone to repetitive motion injuries.
- House Bill 1068 gives workers the right to record independent medical exams for workers compensation claims, so there’s clearer evidence if doctors undermine a claim with a poor examination.
- House Bill 1261 streamlines the process for siting and permitting clean energy projects, which tend to be big job-makers for construction and utility workers.
- Senate Bill 1570 makes Uber and Lyft drivers eligible for state unemployment benefits and paid family medical leave. Washington is the first state in the nation to extend those programs to drivers.
Better luck next time
- NO ANTI-UNION MEETINGS: Senate Bill 5417, a proposal to protect workers from retaliation if they skipped “captive audience” meetings where managers share their opinions on unionization or political or religious matters, passed the Senate Labor Committee but died in the Senate Rules committee without a vote.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously listed Amazon as one of the companies that self-insures for workers compensation.