Votes expected soon on labor policy legislation: Sharp divide between chambers

The Associated Press has a good rundown on a number of labor policy issues expected to come to floor votes this week, including minimum wage, workers’ compensation, and paid sick leave. Unsurprisingly, the two chambers have sharply divided views on the proposals.

In the Democratic-controlled House, bills with strong enough backing to make passage seem likely include bills to raise the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour, guarantee a minimum amount of sick leave and forbid retaliation over complaints of owed wages. Across the Rotunda in the Senate, a coalition of mostly Republicans holds power and has passed out of committee bills that would aid challenges to labor unions, restructure workers’ compensation and create a tier of legal wages for teenagers below the state’s official minimum hourly pay.

So far, leaders on each side have spoken as if they are unwilling to bend to the proposals being considered by the other, which creates the possibility the opposing ideologies in play could mostly cancel out.

The article includes comments from Opportunity Washington partner, AWB.

“If they want to see anything come out of the other side, they’re going to have to work to compromise on common ground on some things,” said Bob Battles, general counsel and government affairs director for the Association of Washington Business.

…”You continue to put costs on top of small business owners, and eventually the small businesses can’t continue to survive,” Battles said. “We’re going to push our small business folks out of the market. They operate on such tight margins already.”

The Washington Research Council recently published a policy brief, The Long-Lasting, Negative Consequences of the Minimum Wage, reviewing the economic literature on minimum wage increases. (Also discussed in this WRC podcast.)
In our research report, Opportunity Washington reviewed the importance of enacting and maintaining policies that stimulate private sector investment and job creation. With respect to workers compensation, we noted:
Similarly, the state has consistently had the highest workers’ compensation benefit costs in the country. In 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, benefit costs averaged $840 per covered worker, nearly twice the U.S. average of $434.9.
We suggested reforms in voluntary settlements and the definitions of occupational disease as ways to improve outcomes for workers and control costs.
And, regarding the minimum wage and paid sick leave, 
Washington employers and residents alike place a high priority on the equitable compensation and protection of those in the workforce. Policymakers must carefully consider wage and benefits mandates and system to ensure that such protection are maintained in a cost-effective manner so that employers can create more job opportunities for Washington citizens.
As Battles points out, there may be common ground on some of these issues. The first priority, however, must be to nurture policies that expand opportunity and prosperity.