In his recent State of the Union address, President Obama asked Congress to send him a bill that would guarantee seven days of paid sick leave a year for each worker. Although we all know that this Congress will not pass such a bill, that does not mean that we cannot push paid sick leave at the state and local level. Several cities and a few states have, in fact, already passed such protections. Recently, Tacoma has joined that list of cities.
The YDWA Labor Caucus and Pierce County Young Democrats have been among the
many organizations supporting Healthy Tacoma’s push for a paid sick and safe leave ordinance in Tacoma. With two allies on the City Council, Anders Ibsen and Ryan Mello, this coalition of labor groups was originally pushing for a vague “9-13 days per year.” After several months of organizing, building support within the business community, and turning out scores of speakers at council meetings, there was a response from Mayor Strickland: a proposal for three days of paid sick leave per year, excluding union workers, and no roll-over from year to year. While we were pleased to see that some policy was being proposed, it was quite clear that this business-backed draft was insufficient.
The counter-offer from Healthy Tacoma was seven days per year, the same as what the President would eventually propose in the State of the Union. This counter-offer also included union workers and allowed unused days to roll over. As the date of the final vote approached, it became clear that the five votes necessary to pass a seven day proposal did not exist. In the final meeting, Ryan Mello proposed a compromise: three days in the first year, and five days in each subsequent year. This amendment was voted down 6-3, with only Victoria Woodards joining our original allies on the council in supporting it.
The Young Democrats Labor Caucus has been involved in this struggle at many points. Our members were among the volunteers who called through Healthy Tacoma’s contact list prior to City Council meetings to help fill the council chambers with supporters of a strong paid sick leave ordinance. At several City Council meetings, Young Democrats were among the dozens of people testifying in favor of such an ordinance. We also called, emailed, and sent physical letters to our representatives on the City Council asking them to support improvements to the ordinance.
In the end, there were three victories the night of that meeting. Another amendment proposed by Mello to include union workers passed; the proposal was amended to allow roll-over of unused days; and however weak it currently is, Tacoma now has a paid sick leave proposal. It is important to remember these victories as we move forward to improve on them. For now, the Labor Caucus will be pushing the same issue at the state level, with our support for Rep. Laurie Jinkins’ bill in the State Legislature. In the event that the Republican-controlled State Senate does not pass paid sick leave, the next step for supporters in Tacoma will be to elect more pro-worker council-members in this year’s elections.