Sick leave: A clash of wills in Legislature

Rodney Tom and Republicans want to stop Seattle from leading other cities down a path to giving workers mandatory sick leave. Democrats want to put family medical leave into effect.
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Rodney Tom and Republicans want to stop Seattle from leading other cities down a path to giving workers mandatory sick leave. Democrats want to put family medical leave into effect.

So many opposing sick leave and family medical leave bills are colliding that it's a wonder that a black hole hasn't materialized to swallow all of them up. 

The Senate Labor and Commerce Committee heard testimony Wednesday on four of these bills with business interests predictably favoring the two Republican bills and labor interests predictably supporting the two Democratic bills. The committee needs to recommend approval of some of these bills by Friday so they meet the deadline to stay alive. With a Republican majority on the committee, the Democratic bills will likely die while the GOP legislation goes to the full Senate.

However, the GOP bills will likely stall in the Democrat-controlled House.

On sick leave issues, Patrick Connor of the National Federation of Independent Businesses said: "Allowing small localities to create a patchwork of sick leave policies will hinder job creation."

On the family leave dispute, Bellevue small business owner Consuela Gomez supported help for workers needing time off to help family members. She argued that her 15 employees make up an $800,000 annual payroll, and that the Family Medical Leave Act would cost her firm only $1,400 in extra expenses. "We don't want turnover (due to inabilities to get paid leave). We want to keep staff. We have to take care of them," Gomez said.

Here is a scorecard of the bills smashing into each over.

  • SB 5726: This would nullify Seattle's mandatory sick leave law by declaring no city can establish such a law. The rationale is this would be an administrative nightmare for out-of-town employers to handle when their employees do some work within Seattle. Opponents countered that Seattle's sick leave law helps working families during crises while not costing much. Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, introduced the bill Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina and Senate majority coalition alliance leader, is a co-sponsor. Tom has characterized Seattle as a place that forces the rest of the state to follow its lead.
  • SB 5728: This would forbid all state and local governments in Washington governments from making mandatory sick leave rules. Both sides made othe same arguments as they did for SB 5726. Braun is the sponsor, and Tom is a co-sponsor.
  • SB 5594: This would create mandatory statewide sick leave rules. Labor and business made the same arguments in this matter as they did on Braun's two bills. Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, introduced it.
  • SB 5292: This would expand the yet-to-be funded Family Medical Leave Act of 2007 to provide leave money through payroll deductions for employees having babies and attending to family medical crises. The cost is expected to be $12 million to $13 million to set up and $5 million annually to manage. Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, introduced this bill as a response to Braun introducing a bill, SB 5159, to eliminate the program. Opponents of the Family Medical Leave Medical Act argue that has never been funded since 2007 and sits around useless. Supporters of the Family Medical Leave Act argued that funding is needed because it would be a good financial crutch for new parents and families with health emergencies.

Braun's bill — supported by Tom and Sen..Tim Sheldon, D-Potlatch, who are the majority coalition's only two Democrats — has already passed of the committee and awaits a full Senate vote. Testimony on Keiser's bill will continue at 8 a.m. Friday because time ran out before everyone could speak on Wednesday. 

For exclusive coverage of the state Legislature, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at and on Twitter at @johnstang_8