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Bill Would Make Washington The First State To Mandate Paid Vacation Days

Camping on West Maui.
Felix Ruess

About one out of four American workers gets no paid vacation time, andthe U.S. is the only industrialized country that doesn’t guarantee that workers receive some. Now lawmakers in Olympia are considering a bill that would make Washington the first state in the country to mandate that employers provide paid vacation days.

Under the bill, workers would start to accrue vacation after being employed six months. There are some exemptions. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees wouldn't have to provide paid vacation time, for example, and people who work fewer than 20 hours a week wouldn’t accrue it.

“Right now the workplace is a rat race,” said Rep. Gael Tarleton, a Democrat from Seattle who introduced the legislation. “It doesn’t give people time off, it doesn’t give people any economic security, and it doesn’t give people a chance to recharge.”

At a House hearing last week, Dr. Sarah Speck, a cardiologist at Swedish Medical Center, told legislators that time away from work improves people’s health.

“Men who don’t take vacations are 30 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who do. Women [are] 50 percent more likely to have a heart attack than those who do take vacations, and many more of those women who don’t take vacations suffer from chronic depression,” she said.

Speck said Europeans, who generally have at least a month of paid vacation time, have heart attacks at a later age than Americans.


The measure is already drawing heated opposition from business groups. Carolyn Logue is with the Washington Food Industry Association, which represents small, independent grocers. She says they already operate with slim profit margins and are worried their costs will rise.

“The reaction from the store owners has been not very positive,” Logue said. “It’s scary to them to think about how they would manage to make this all work.”  

The bill is up for a vote in the House labor and workforce development committee Tuesday.

One of the people advocating for the paid vacation legislation is filmmaker John de Graaf, who recently made a documentary called "The Great Vacation Squeeze." De Graaf is married to KPLU reporter Paula Wissel.

Credit Center for Economic and Policy Research
Center for Economic and Policy Research

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.