SEATTLE – The Evergreen State has room for improvement when it comes to protecting working families, according to a new report. The National Partnership for Women and Families gave Washington a “B-minus” grade in a recent study assessing states’ workplace policies to protect expectant and new parents – including paid family leave and workplace accommodations for pregnant women.
According to Marilyn Watkins, policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute and head of the Washington Work and Family Coalition, there’s one bright spot for Washington parents who need time off to care for their children.
“Over a decade ago now,” Watkins said, “Washington passed a law that says that if you do have paid leave – paid sick leave or some other kind of paid time off – you can use that leave not only if you’re sick yourself, but also if you have a sick child, spouse, parent, parent-in-law, grandparent.”
Only California received an ‘A’ grade in the report. Both New Jersey and the District of Columbia received an ‘A-minus.’
A pregnant woman in Washington can also take as much time off as necessary without having to worry about losing her job, Watkins said. But she won’t necessarily be paid for that time.
Sarah Fleisch Fink, director of policy and senior counsel with the National Partnership for Women and Families, said that while Washington has taken steps in the right direction, workers in low-wage jobs are disproportionately affected by inadequate workplace protections.
“For workers in low-wage jobs, they are even less likely to have access to paid leave, they are even less likely to have access to paid sick days and to other protections,” she said. “And in many cases, they are even more in need.”
A state ballot initiative this year could help alleviate some of the financial stress for expectant and new parents, Watkins said. Initiative 1433 would raise the minimum wage statewide to $13.50 an hour by 2020, and also provide workers with paid sick leave. According to Watkins, more than a million workers in Washington currently don’t have a single day of paid sick leave.
“So, they are going to hugely benefit from having access to paid sick leave for the first time; so will their kids, so will the elders in their family,” Watkins said. “We’re all going to be healthier when workers aren’t forced to make the choice between going to work sick or putting groceries on the family’s table that week.”
Eric Tegethoff is a journalist covering the Northwest. Eric has worked as a reporter for KBOO, XRAY FM, and Oregon Public Broadcasting in Portland, Oregon, as well as other print and digital news media. In 2012, Eric traveled to North Dakota to write about the Bakken region oil boom. He's also worked at a movie theater, as a campaign canvasser and quality assurance at a milk packaging factory. Eric is originally from Orlando, Florida. He graduated from the University of Florida in 2010.