Paid Family Medical Leave - 2019
Another significant piece of legislation HB 2005, established a landmark paid family and medical leave insurance program in Oregon. When the benefits begin in 2023, employees will have access to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for a child after birth, or to care for themselves or a family member with a serious health condition. This is a much needed safety net for workers who can't afford to take time off or lose their job to care for themselves or a family member. This program is designed not to be punitive on small business.
For over 30 years, wages for most workers have stagnated even while productivity and CEO salaries have soared, crippling our middle-class economy. Too many parents are working full time—sometimes at multiple part-time jobs—and are still unable to make ends meet. Too many workers are paid so little that they have to depend on public assistance just to get by, costing taxpayers nearly $2 billion every year—even while many employers make record profits.
Tax reform to help address income inequality has not happened and Oregon does not have the revenue to subsidize these basic needs working Oregonians deserve. For the middle-class American dream, this lopsided economy has become an existential crisis. I’m proud to say that this year, the Oregon Legislature voted to begin tackling this problem head on by raising Oregon’s minimum wage.
While this historic minimum wage bill passed during the 2016 legislative session, the work to shape it began more than a year ago when several bills were introduced for consideration in January 2015. And despite uninformed claims and false assumptions about the process leading up to this year’s vote, the effort to craft this proposal was thorough, measured, and took into account feedback from the public, business organizations, labor unions, advocacy groups, political parties, legislators, and economists. In fact, over the course of the past year, we held 10 public hearings on raising the minimum wage, adding up to about 30 hours of public testimony from all sides on the issue.
The concepts that emerged from the work-group and the public hearings informed Governor Brown’s initial proposal in January of this year. After more input from all sides, Senate Bill 1532 came forward with provisions addressing feedback from business groups and rural legislators in two key ways.
First, we phased in the wage increases gradually over seven years—between July 2016 and July 2022—in order to provide certainty and stability for employers and give them time to plan for the increases. This ramp up is much slower than many of the other concepts that were floated, namely the $13.50 and $15 ballot measures that were moving forward.
Second, rather than having one minimum wage rate for the entire state, Senate Bill 1532 establishes a regional system with three wage levels to reflect different local economies and costs of living. This is an innovative approach to raising the minimum wage that could be emulated across the country.
Senate Bill 1532 is a three-region minimum wage measure that phases in increases in the state minimum wage over six years. Arriving at $14.75 in the Portland metropolitan area, $12.50 in rural counties and $13.50 in the Willamette Valley Northwest Oregon, as well as Jackson, Josephine, Deschutes, Wasco and Hood River counties.
Paid Sick Leave (2015)
One of the principal issues this session was paid sick leave: a requirement that employers provide time off to their employees. Workers often have to decide if they should lose a days’ pay or come to work sick. SB 454 has become a nationally recognized legislative measure and I was proud to help craft a policy that will benefit the majority of workers in Oregon.
During the session hundreds of citizens came to the Capitol to express their opinion on the issue. We heard from employees, parents, business owners, as well as representatives from cities that have already passed paid sick leave ordinances (Eugene and Portland). Oregonians overwhelmingly told us how important it is that they have paid sick leave so that they can stay home and recover quickly when they are ill, so that they can care for their sick children, and so that even when they fall ill they are still able pay their bills at the end of the month.
The final bill requires most businesses with 10 or more employees to provide 40 hours per year of paid sick leave to employees. Employers will be able to use their own paid time off policies if they offer equivalent benefits. After spending most of the session working out the details of how to design a paid sick leave policy that took into account the needs of Oregon’s workers and employers, I was honored to have the opportunity to craft this policy and carry this important bill on the House floor and champion its’ passage. It’s time we took a very small step to address income inequality by providing a small measure of job security.
HB 4086 extends unemployment insurance to workers who are locked-out as a result of a labor dispute. The legislation was introduced after Allegheny Technologies Inc. locked out members of the United Steelworkers in August of last year. Nearly 200 Steelworkers have been locked out of their worksite at the ATI plant in Albany due to a multi-state labor dispute. Recently their six months of unemployment benefits ran out, leaving these workers and their families without a safety net.
Many of the affected workers came to Salem in early February to tell their stories of hardship to the House Committee on Business and Labor. (pictured right)
The Oregon House voted 49-9 to extend unemployment benefits for locked out workers from six months to 12 months. House Bill 4086 will give these workers—and workers like them in the future—a full year of benefits while the labor dispute is negotiated.
Wage Transparency 2016
SB 1587 is intended to addresses bad actors who do not pay their employees as required by law. Wage theft is damaging to employees and unfair to the employers who play by the rules. There is more that can be done to address wage theft, but SB 1587 is a step in the right direction.
Current law requires paystubs to show the amount and purpose of payroll deductions. This measure specifies that the paystub include specific information regarding the employer, the payroll period, the rate of pay, the basis of pay (e.g., hourly, shift, salary, piece rate, commission), overtime hours and overtime rate of pay, and specifics on piece rate.
SB 1587 prohibits contractors or subcontractors from intentionally failing to pay prevailing wage rate or taking other actions to avoid the cost of prevailing wage rate. Punishes violation by maximum of five years’ imprisonment, $125,000 fine, or both. Victims of wage theft can be some of the most vulnerable workers in Oregon.
Current law allows the Wage Security Fund be used only for paying wage claims against an employer who has gone out of business and lacks the assets to pay wages. The Fund has a balance of approximately $8.3 million. The measure increases BOLI’s expenditure limitation for the 2015/17 biennium by $325,954. With this increase, BOLI anticipates hiring 3 people to investigate and enforce claims of underpaid and unpaid wages.
Finally SB 1587 also requires the employer to maintain time and pay records of employee for not less than period required by Fair Labor Standards Act (depending on the record, this is a period of 2 or 3 years) and allows an employee to receive a certified copy of time and pay records within 45 days of request. I am proud to stand with workers to make sure they receive the compensation for their work that they deserve.