AWB Has Right Solution to Mounting UI Costs Pounding WA Businesses

Updated – Jan. 14, 2010

The battle over high unemployment-insurance costs is raging in this year’s legislative session in Olympia – a debate over public-policy fairness.

Businesses led by the Association of Washington Business (AWB) are asking for a bill that will lower unemployment insurance costs (UI) for employers scheduled to increase an average of 38 percent this year. But a consortium of unions is actually trying to increase unemployment checks as a condition for lowering the UI costs. Unions want employers to underwrite more than $60 per child each month in UI costs for unemployed workers.

“While their goal is well intended, remember Washington employers pay the entire unemployment premium and over the last two years in the worst recession since the Great Depression, UI costs have skyrocketed – some by more than a thousand percent and many in triple digits,” wrote Don Brunell in a post as president of AWB.

“Washington employers pay the nation’s 5th highest unemployment insurance rates.  Our state’s unemployment benefits are 2nd highest in the country,” he added.   “And, workers compensation benefits in Washington are 5th highest, according to the 2011 Competitiveness Redbook produced by the Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy.”

So, it boils down to a question of fairness. Unions should instead consider paying part of the onerous premiums.

AWB practices what it preaches and Mr. Brunell provided this recommendation:

“A system along the lines of what AWB put in place several years ago for long-term care,” he wrote.  “AWB provides a basic policy for long-term care for the people who work here.  If they chose to add a family member to the plan, they pay a small premium for that coverage.  It is fair and it works.  That would be an innovative approach to consider for UI.”

He pointed out Washington businesspeople and other residents already have a heavy tax burden:

“…I posted a Olympia Watch post based on Tax Foundation findings showing that Washington’s ‘Tax Freedom Day’ is April 15, not April 9,” wrote Mr. Brunell. “In other words, when unemployment insurance and workers compensation taxes are added in, Washington families and employers pay a higher than average tax load and work an extra 6 days for the government.”

The AWB president agrees – the welfare of Washington’s children should be taken into account.

“Refocusing the issue is important.  It is about kids and families.   AWB believes it is better for Washington workers and their families to have jobs.  Relying on unemployment payments is no way for families to manage their finances.  Besides, those benefits are time limited.  Taxes and costs of doing business drive location and hiring decisions for Main Street businesses and large factories.  Global competition is fierce and real.  This isn’t about tradeoffs.  It is about stimulating jobs.”

Mr. Brunell’s conclusion is valid. On a personal note, I recently became aware of the plight of two unemployed workers, who are a world apart in their self esteem and philosophy about receiving unemployment benefits.

One worker who was unemployed for two years told me he was appreciative of a job offer from Boeing. He accepted the job even though it requires a commute well in excess of 50 miles one way each day. As a family man, he’s thrilled to have a future with a world-class company – even though it nets $300 a month less than he received in unemployment benefits.

The other person is staying on unemployment because he receives about $100 a month more in benefits than a recent job offer would net him.

These two examples underscore what is wrong with the exorbitant UI system in Washington and the ominous, ever-increasing entitlement attitudes of some workers. The Legislature must alleviate the financial pain of businesses for the creation of jobs.

From the Coach’s Corner, you can stay current with the moderate recommendations of Mr. Brunell and his illustrious staff at AWB’s site, www.awb.org.

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.