An amended version of Senate Bill 5236, our safe staffing bill, has been passed by the state Senate, and now goes to the state House.
All session, we’ve been working with legislative partners to pass strong, enforceable staffing standards to protect worker and patient safety, but hospital executives have been fighting tooth and nail to preserve the status quo. The amended version of the bill that was passed by the Senate would implement staffing standards as a potential corrective action for hospitals that do not comply with their staffing plans. While this compromise version presents a different path to staffing standards than how it was written in the original bill, the current bill makes real progress toward enforcement of safer staffing and addressing burnout. This bill contains enough meaningful change that all the coalition partners feel it is worth moving forward and supporting, while acknowledging that we will have more work to do in enforcement, in bargaining, and in future legislative sessions. We are not done with our fight for safe staffing standards.
This bill is not a done deal—it will take all of us organizing together to push it over the finish line. The new bill must now move through committees in the House and be passed by the full House and signed into law by the Governor. We will continue sending the message to lawmakers that healthcare workers are demanding passage of the strongest possible version. Stay tuned for days of action, committee hearings, and other action steps coming very soon.
The staffing bill version that passed the Senate:
- Strengthens accountability to staffing plans, with set staffing standards as a potential corrective action if hospitals are out of compliance. If hospitals fall below 80% compliance with their staffing plans, they are required to report to the Department of Health (DOH) and Labor and Industries (L&I). Noncompliant hospitals will be assigned a corrective action plan by L&I and DOH, including elements like safe staffing standards set by L&I that they have to follow.
- Expands staffing committees and plans to include CNAs.
- Expands meal and rest break laws to include all frontline staff and ensures hospitals follow the law. If there are more than 20% of breaks missed in a month, L&I will issue escalating penalties. If employers coerce or retaliate against employees related to their breaks rights, or falsify breaks records, LNI can take action.
- Closes loopholes to make mandatory overtime laws fully enforceable.
- Funds the WA State Institute for Public Policy to conduct a study of existing staffing plans to establish what’s actually happening in WA hospitals and compare them to elsewhere. This study would set a baseline understanding of the staffing crisis in WA by a credible, nonpartisan source, and provide us with a benchmark against California and professional association standards for staffing levels, which is critical for our continued work to ensure safe staffing in Washington.
Once this bill gets to the governor’s desk and we know what the final version looks like, we will immediately get to work with union leaders and all members on what enforcement systems should look like going forward so we can use the tools in the bill to create the safest possible staffing situations in our hospitals. As always, our advocacy will be key to our patients’ care and safety.
Other important bills that passed the Senate which support healthcare workers include a bill that expands workers’ compensation for nurses with PTSD, and a workforce development bill aiming at improving the nursing education and credentialing pipeline for RNs, CNAs, and LPNs.
We’d like to take a moment to thank all the Senators who voted for the bill, especially prime sponsor Senator June Robinson who took the voices of her community’s nurses and healthcare workers into every meeting and conversation.
Our fight for safe staffing is not over, but this is a step in the right direction.