Monday, March 18, 2013

Tacoma Should Not Feel the Pain of Seattle's Sick and Safe Leave

by Sen. John Braun and Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber President & CEO Tom Pierson

Since when did Washington State give its cities the right to create laws that apply to businesses throughout the state and even internationally? We don’t believe it did; however, the City of Seattle seems to think it can do just that.

Seattle adopted City Council Bill 117216 in 2011, and when it started implementation in 2012, the city began applying its own labor laws to any business that happened to have an employee venturing into the city limits. What happened next was a nightmare for employers contributing to our regional economy. These businesses are outside the city limits, so they are unable to take part in Seattle’s political process.

Now, if an employee goes to a meeting in Seattle, employers must track those hours from the time they cross the city limits until they exit. They must track hourly employees and salaried employees. They even have to track the hours for someone driving a truck to the Port of Seattle from Yakima or of someone coming from Bellevue to meet with a client.

While we support local control and believe the City of Seattle has a right to put this law in effect within the city, we question its right to mandate benefits and compensation packages for those businesses located outside the city limits.

Elected officials and business representatives are hearing from employers about the challenge of monitoring sporadic, infrequent, or term-limited trips to Seattle – and treating these employees differently from the rest of the staff. This is a matter of fairness, especially for small businesses that are now forced to do burdensome recordkeeping.

Additionally, due to the complicated rules, it is not clear that all the additional record keeping will lead to significant benefits for workers. In many cases the benefits will be random and minimal. This is a lose-lose situation. The higher administrative costs for employers will reduce the amount of money available for wages and benefits.

Furthermore, Seattle’s mandate has effectively taken away the bargaining rights of some represented and unrepresented groups. Requiring sick days prohibits groups from determining how many, or even if, they should roll sick leave into a more general and flexible “paid time off” category. Most employees—unionized or not—prefer flexibility when deciding what is best for them.

We have to ask ourselves: Why is a local government trying to dictate the best interests of workers all over the state?

While the goal of this law may be to create a more productive workforce, the bill also appears to try to force all companies outside of the city to follow Seattle’s method of “encouraging” business. By creating an insurmountable accounting burden, Seattle is hoping companies throughout the region will be forced to follow Seattle’s law company-wide. These attacks across municipal lines must stop.

Just as Seattle would not welcome laws placed on it by Centralia or Tacoma, we do not welcome Seattle’s creation of a new de facto statewide labor law. If Seattle chooses to place this burdensome requirement on businesses within city limits, that is their prerogative, but they should not be able to place this mandate on the entire state.

To limit the negative impacts to our business environment, the legislature must limit the reach of Seattle’s law from extending beyond municipal boundaries. To accomplish this, we support the passage of Senate Bill 5726, which returns sanity to the non-Seattle-centric business community by limiting the impacts of local legislation to within the city limits. If you believe Seattle has gone too far in its attacks on businesses across the state like we do, please contact your local legislators and ask them to support SB 5726.

John Braun represents the 20th Legislative district, and is also a partner in his family-owned manufacturing company, Braun NW, which builds emergency response vehicles and employs more than 150 workers. Tom Pierson is the President & CEO of the Tacoma Pierce County Chamber.

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