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Will 2017 Be the Year Washington State Passes Paid Family Leave?

Local organizations mobilize to pass paid family and medical leave

Published on: December 02, 2016

Pregnant businesswoman signs a piece of paper

Here’s a glimmer of hope from this year’s presidential election cycle: Both the Democratic and the Republican candidates put paid family leave on their policy agendas. Only time will tell if President-elect Donald Drumpf makes good on his proposal of six weeks of paid maternity leave, but change may arrive more swiftly in Washington state. This January, two Washington State legislators will propose a bill to pass paid family and medical leave in our state.

I learned about this bill last month while attending a paid parental leave forum hosted by Townsquared Seattle and the Seattle Public Library for small businesses in Seattle. Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, is the House sponsor of the bill and Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, is the Senate sponsor of the bill, said Maggie Humphreys, the Washington State organizer for grassroots organization MomsRising.

While the proposed bill is currently being written, it’s expected to be similar to the Family and Medical Leave Insurance (FAMLI) Act, which failed to be heard on either floor of the state legislature during the 2016 session. FAMLI proposed 12 weeks of leave at two-thirds of an employee’s pay to care for a new child or a seriously ill family member, and 12 weeks for the worker’s own serious health condition.

The new bill will likely go further since many low wage workers can’t make it on just two-thirds of their income. Instead, bill sponsors Robinson and Keiser are looking at a graduated benefit where low wage workers would, as of publishing, get 90 percent of their usual weekly wage, mid-income 70 percent and high income 50 percent.

But how’s this look in terms of cost to employees and employers?

“In our current proposal, the typical worker would pay small payroll premiums of about $2 a week and business owners would pay a quarter of one percentage of payroll to cover a really robust paid family leave,” says Marilyn Watkins, a speaker at the Nov. 15 forum, policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute and leader of Washington Work and Family Coalition, one of the organizations working to pass the upcoming bill. 

The good news: Many local businesses are already changing even without state support.

Danielle Hulton, co-owner of Ada’s Technical Bookstore and Café in Capitol Hill, offers eight weeks of paid leave to parents after a baby is born or adopted.

“I, myself, am a new mother. When I was pregnant, I realized my husband and his colleagues who work in the engineering field have paid leave. As a business owner, I could take leave, too. Suddenly it was important to me to offer this leave to my staff, too,” Hulton said during the Nov. 15 forum. “I feel strongly that we have a work-life balance at Ada’s. Offering paid leave is good for our business.

Rich Fox, owner of local restaurants Poquitos, Rhein Haus and Macleod's, says two dads and one mom have taken advantage of his company’s six weeks of paid parental leave since the program started a year ago — a program he’s proud of: “The psychological impact and relief our employees felt knowing they had that support was priceless.” 

Learn more

Before the 2017 Washington State legislator convenes, MomsRising is co-hosting two bipartisan discussions on paid family and medical leave in Seattle.

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The first event is called “Community Organizing for Paid Family Leave” and is hosted in partnership with the Southeast Seattle Education Coalition and Families of Color Seattle. This free lunch and ice cream social will be at Rainier Avenue Church’s Fellowship Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 6 from 12:00 to 2:00 p.m.

Another ice cream social — “The Business of Paid Family Leave” — is scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 13 from 5:30 to 7:30pm at Molly Moon Headquarters on Capitol Hill (915 E Pine St). Enjoy free ice cream, appetizers and conversation with your community.

Babies and kids of all ages are welcome at both events. 

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