Unions make a difference. When university employers fall short, unions give academic researchers a tool to address sexual misconduct and unequal treatment. An empowered workforce can deter arbitrary treatment, and this can help ensure long-term career stability—particularly for women and non-binary employees.
Seattle and Washington State now have some of the most progressive labor laws in the country, with a higher minimum wage, a right to paid sick days, fair scheduling in Seattle, and in a couple years, paid family and medical leave for every worker in the state. Coalitions of community groups, labor unions, and working people came together with elected leaders to develop and enact these standards.
None of us is immune from the ups and downs of health and wellness. That’s why the new family and medical leave law includes time off to recover from a serious illness or injury, or to care for a seriously ill family member. Because unexpected changes in our home or family situations is something we all face – and isn’t something that should cause financial distress.
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.
“There’s a social value to this whole program that goes above and beyond individual choice,” said Marilyn Watkins, policy director at Economic Opportunity Institute, which backed the bill. For example, babies who bond with their mothers may have a better start to life to set them up for success in society, she said. And workers with access to paid medical leave put less of a burden on the entire health care system, Watkins added.
“Only about 12 to 15% of the workforce get paid family leave benefit,” said Marilyn Watkins, who is with the Economic Opportunity Institute. That's why for almost two decades Watkins lobbied for mandatory paid family and medical leave.
"To move something this big and this important," Marilyn Watkins says, "it seemed like in this specific case—not in every case—it was worth having a limited kind of preemption language if that was the price."
“I think it will change lives. I know it will change lives,” said Marilyn Watkins with EOI.
“This is really important to me personally, I hope my two sons will have kids soon and I want them to have this policy available to them. I was able to care for my mother as she died a couple years ago, it was a privilege to be able to do that, but I don’t think it should be a privilege it should be a right that everyone has,” said Marilyn Watkins, who is the policy director for the Economic Opportunity Institute.
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.
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