Unions in Washington State Fight for Legislation That Lifts All Workers

It’s not surprising that through unionization, workers consistently win higher wages, better health care coverage, and more secure retirements. It’s a simple power equation. By joining together and pooling resources, workers can balance the playing field between employer and employee. What many folks might not know is that the pooled resources of union members also create huge advantages for workers, not in unions.

In Washington, for example, unions have used their power in the legislature to help pass minimum wage increases, paid family and medical leave laws, and extensive workplace protections that benefit all workers. This vigorous framework of pro-working family, union-backed laws is central to why Oxfam recently rated Washington State the #1 state to work in the country.

The Washington State Labor Council, which represents more than 600 union locals and councils in the state, writes powerful legislative summaries each year that lay out their priorities for the legislative session. These are just a few examples, out of hundreds, where union members’ work and dedication have brought positive change for all working families statewide:

Union members were instrumental in the adoption of Initiative 1433 in 2016, which raised the minimum wage to one of the highest in the country. The increase benefited over 700,000 Washingtonians, nearly one in every four workers.

In 2017, Washington’s unions helped establish one of the nation’s most generous paid family and medical leave policies. The culmination of a ten-year campaign, it meant Washingtonians would no longer have to choose between a paycheck and taking care of a loved one during a crisis. And it meant new parents could stay home with their baby without fear of financial ruin.

Labor unions also backed the Equal Pay Opportunity Act in 2018 to close the gap between what women and men are paid. The same year, they helped shepherd three bills into law that built new protections against sexual harassment in the workplace.

Compare these supportive policies to a state with weak unions such as Georgia. Only 4.1% of that state’s workers are unionized while the minimum wage sits at $5.15 per hour. Employers are compelled to pay workers $7.25 per hour only because of the federal minimum wage. There is no law that offers any kind of family or medical leave in Georgia. Family members can take unpaid leave from the job only, again only because of federal law. It’s comparisons like this that show how far ahead of the curve Washington is in respecting and protecting workers.

Regardless of what state you’re in, working families cannot afford their own personal advocate to visit with legislators all week long. If we could, we would tell lawmakers we should be paid fairly for our work, that we should be able to stay home with our new baby without going broke, and that we should be free of sexual harassment in the workplace. And that’s exactly what union members have been lobbying for, year in and year out. The results have been momentous for all workers, making Washington the best state to work in nationwide.