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Workers, employers share views on paid family leave proposal

A paid family leave bill now proposed in Olympia is getting mixed reviews from some local employers and employees.

The legislation passed the State Senate, but a much different version may make it out of the House.

Governor Christine Gregoire has indicated she would prefer the matter be a referendum decided by voters. The program would essentially set up a fund to provide up to five weeks of paid leave for working parents to bond with a newborn, allow workers to care for a seriously ill family member or to recover from their own serious health condition.

Much is still up in the air about the bill.

But there are some knowns, chiefly that employees and/or employers will have to pay for the program, the amount of paid leave would be somewhere around $250 a week for five weeks and employers would be required to provide additional record keeping under the new state program.

One version of the bill, which establishes family and medical leave insurance, would have every employee pay two cents for each hour they work to fund leave payments and administrative costs for the new program, which would be overseen by the State's Labor and Industries Department.

Vernita Coffey is an administrative assistant with the Port of Sunnyside. She thinks the possibility of paid leave could be good for people like her who have aging parents they may have to care for.

"I wouldn't be against it," she said. "I don't think two cents per hour is too much to pay." Coffey expressed hesitance about a possible provision of the legislation that would not require employers with fewer than 25 workers to retain an employee who takes the five-week paid leave.

Cindy Hoctor works at Morris Floral and Gifts in downtown Sunnyside and said the proposal "sounds great in theory". She's concerned, though, that the program could be abused.

"We might as well stick a few pennies away ourselves," co-worker Diane Lyczewski said, noting she's leery of new government programs and taxation.

While some employees in the area saw some pluses and minuses to the proposal, local employers contacted were firmly opposed.

"I guess with us having only five full-time employees, if one were to leave for a long period of time it would put a pinch on us for personnel issues," said Ty Hoffard, president of Grandview-based Marchant Home Furnishings. "I don't mind giving people the time off, but with it being paid I think people might take advantage of it in a wrong way."

Hoffard is also concerned about what the legislation could to do his company's unemployment insurance rate if an employee took the five weeks off and then wasn't retained because another worker was hired to replace him or her.

The Association of Washington Business estimates that unemployment rates could rise as much as $100 per year for an employer if a worker on the five week's leave was not retained because of hiring a replacement.

Opposition was also expressed by the manager of a Sunnyside manufacturing plant that employs 49 workers. He declined to provide his name, but said the paid family leave act "would kill us". He added, "It would just drive up the cost of doing business. It would be like providing double pay."

The paid family leave legislation at last report was still in the state House of Representatives with a majority vote sending it on to the Rules Committee for a second reading.

The current State legislative session is expected to run for about another two weeks.

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