Workplace Wins in Washington: A look at the 2024 legislative session


A well-watched union-backed bill that would have extended unemployment benefits to striking workers missed a cutoff deadline and died during the 2024 Washington State legislative session. But state lawmakers passed several other measures to improve workplaces and bolster workers rights. Here’s a roundup of what did and didn’t pass: 

  • No more captive audience meetings No longer can employers in Washington use the classic anti-union tactic of requiring workers to attend “captive audience” meetings where managers share their opinions on unionization or political or religious matters. SB 5778 gives workers free choice to skip those meetings. And if they opt out, their employer is prohibited from threatening, disciplining, or firing them for it. SB 5778 passed the Senate 28-20 and the House 55-41.
  • Sanitary conditions for menstruation and lactation in construction HB 2266 requires that construction sites provide free feminine hygiene products and reasonable, clean places for nursing mothers to lactate. It was backed by the Laborers International Union, Ironworkers Local 86, Bricklayers Local 1, IBEW Local 46, the Washington State Building and Construction Trades Council, and the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. It passed the Senate unanimously, and the House voted 78-18 two days before the session ended. 
  • Expanding the definition of family for Paid Sick Leave SB 5793 recognizes that “family” covers more than just those who are bound by blood or marriage. The bill expands the Paid Sick Leave program’s definition of family member to include any individual who lives with and depends on someone for care, as well as a grandparent, a grandchild, or a child’s spouse. That’s the same definition used for Paid Family and Medical Leave. SB 5793 landed on the governor’s desk the final day of the session after passing the Senate 28-21 and the House 76-19. 
  • Legislative staff collective bargaining In 2022, the Legislature passed a law allowing certain legislative staff to unionize and bargain a contract. SB 6194 sets a framework for how those workers do that. Under the bill, House and Senate staffs would have their own bargaining units and Democratic and Republican staffs in either chamber would be in different bargaining units unless both vote to be together. Workers can bargain over wages, hours, terms, and conditions of employment, with some restrictions. For example, workers aren’t allowed to bargain over layoffs if the job loss happened after an election, appointment, or resignation of a lawmaker. The Washington State Labor Council supported the bill but expressed concerns about the bargaining restrictions. SB 6194 passed both chambers the final day of the session after back-and-forth between the House and Senate over its amendments. 
  • Adding equal pay protections Washington’s equal pay statute already made it a misdemeanor to pay workers different wages because of their gender. HB 1905 expands the statute to cover all protected classes, including age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, race, disability, or veteran status. HB 1905 passed the House 63-34 and the Senate 36-13.
  • 21st century union cards SB 6060 allows public employees to unionize by signing union cards online instead of just on paper. Oregon passed a similar law in 2023. SB 6060 passed the Senate 31-18 and the House 92-4.
  • Buy Clean Buy Fair  The state spends billions every year on construction materials for public infrastructure, which are often manufactured overseas in countries with poor labor standards and inadequate environmental protections. HB 1282 directs the state to track the labor and environmental impact of the materials it purchases to build roads, bridges, and public buildings. It passed the House 58-39 and the Senate 28-20.


  • Unemployment benefits for striking workers A key focus for unions this session, HB 1893 would have allowed striking workers to receive unemployment insurance if they spent more than two weeks on the picket line. It would also make workers who are locked out by their employer during another union’s strike eligible for benefits, no matter how long the lockout lasts. Similar laws already exist in New Jersey, New York, and Maine. The bill died on March 1 when it failed to reach the Senate floor before a cutoff deadline. Senate Labor Committee chair Karen Keiser told the nonprofit media organization Washington State Standard that the bill didn’t have enough votes to pass the Senate; Democrats hold 29 of the chamber’s 49 seats.
  • Good faith and fair dealing for worker’s comp In 2023, lawmakers passed a bill to require public employers who use a third party administrator for workers compensation benefits to handle claims with “good faith and fair dealing.” HB 2168 and SB 5991 would have expanded that requirement to all employers, but neither bill received a hearing. 
  • Fertility coverage for workers HB 1151 and SB 5204 were among Washington State Labor Council’s priorities this session. First introduced in 2023, the bills would require insurance plans to include fertility treatments so families that needed those treatments could afford them. Neither got a vote. 

Karen Keiser calls it quits

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-33

Labor legislator Karen Keiser announced March 5 that she’s retiring from the Washington Legislature after 29 years representing several working class suburbs south of Seattle. 

Keiser is a former communications director of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO. Before that, she worked as a broadcast journalist in Portland, Denver, and Seattle, and was a member of AFTRA.

Keiser was appointed to fill an open state house seat in 1996 and moved over to the state senate in 2001, where she has represented SeaTac, Kent, Des Moines, and Burien. 

In her years at the state Capitol, she sponsored and led passage of numerous pieces of legislation that benefit working people, including paid family and medical leave, overtime protection for agricultural workers, expansion of apprenticeship programs, and prohibition of mandatory anti-union meetings in the workplace.

Since 2018, she’s served as president pro tempore, presiding over the Senate when the lieutenant governor has been unavailable. Last year, Washington State University Press published her book “Getting Elected Is the Easy Part,” a how-to book aimed to pass her legislative knowledge along to newly elected lawmakers.  


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