Patty in the News

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Union workers at the Hanford nuclear reservation are entitled to back pay estimated at more than $140,000 for sick leave after Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., took up their complaint.

“Our government has a moral and legal obligation to clean up Hanford, and that responsibility extends to making sure every worker at the site is being treated with respect and compensated fairly for their work,” Murray said.

A prevailing wage is set by the Department of Labor for Hanford, based largely on the collective bargaining agreements of the site’s more than 3,000 unionized workers.

The Department of Labor uses Department of Energy information submitted annually for base pay and fringe benefits to determine the prevailing wage for the site’s workers across multiple industries and collective bargaining agreements.

The United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters Local Union 598 raised questions after Washington state voters passed a new paid sick leave law in 2016 that set a minimum rate of one hour of paid sick leave accrued for every 40 hours worked.

When Local 598 checked to confirm whether the new sick leave benefit would be paid by DOE in the amount the union expected, they instead heard that workers would receive a smaller amount of sick leave pay than the union believed was required by law.

The union determined the pay discrepancy was based on what DOE was reporting as a wage and what it was reporting as a fringe benefit.


A payroll deduction of $8 is made for each hour worked and sent to an account of the worker’s choosing, such as a house payment account.

The union contended the $8 was part of the base pay and should be used to calculate sick pay benefits, but DOE was counting it as a fringe benefit when it calculated sick leave benefits as the new law took effect in January 2018, according to Murray’s office.

The Washington state Department of Labor and Industries agreed with the union on the base pay issue, but DOE and the Department of Labor continued to disagree.

Murray, as the top Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, stepped in to help two months ago.

After she contacted the Department of Labor, it agreed that the union’s base pay had been incorrectly reported by DOE and that union members were entitled to back pay, according to Murray’s staff.

The issue of how the $8 was reported also could affect prevailing wage determinations, but that issue has yet to be addressed.

“As a voice for Hanford and Washington state in Congress, I commend the members of Local 598 for bringing this to light, and am glad I was able to help push the federal government to do what’s right in taking the first step toward making these workers whole,” Murray said.

She said she would continue to make sure that Hanford employees “get every last penny they’ve worked for.”

The Department of Energy declined to comment on the issue.

I have a very simple message for Senate Republicans: Do your jobs, and allow me to do mine.

I was elected by the voters in Washington state to be their voice, but I can't do that if Republicans refuse to allow the Senate to perform one of our most important Constitutional responsibilities: carefully evaluating and voting on whether to confirm justices of the Supreme Court.

When I talk to people across Washington state, they tell me they are frustrated with the partisanship and dysfunction in Congress. Democrat, Republican, independent: They say they want their government to work for them and their families, and they want Congress to help make that happen. I couldn't agree more.

I know we can make progress when we work together, and I am particularly proud of the work I've done to do to break through the gridlock with the bipartisan budget deal I struck with now-Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, and the bipartisan law I wrote with Republicans that finally fixed the broken No Child Left Behind law. But unfortunately, instead of working with us to build on that bipartisan work, the Republicans who control Congress have now taken the dysfunction to a whole new level and are spreading it beyond Congress and into our nation's highest court.

Just hours after the passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Republican leaders made it clear that they had no intention to even consider filling the vacancy. They immediately decided that they were going to put petty partisan politics above our Constitution, our country, and their responsibilities as United States senators — and that they would hobble the Supreme Court for a year or more in the hopes that a Republican is elected President. That is absolutely wrong, and I hope they reconsider.

The Constitution could not be clearer. Article II, Section 2 states: “[the President] shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint ... Judges of the Supreme Court.”

The Constitution doesn't say “shall nominate only in his first three years.” It doesn't say “shall nominate unless the Senate doesn't feel like working that year.” It says he “shall nominate,” then it is up to the Senate to ultimately help make sure that vacancy is filled with a qualified person.

To be very clear: Republicans aren't objecting to a person. They are objecting to the very idea that this president should be allowed to nominate anyone. Now they are saying they won't even hold hearings, no matter how qualified a nominee is. And some of them are saying they would refuse to even meet with one!

So how are Republican leaders defending this? Well, they are saying that we should wait until voters weigh in this November. But voters have weighed in. They elected President Obama and entrusted him with the powers and responsibilities granted by the Constitution for four full years — not just three.

Republicans also say there is precedent to stall on Supreme Court nominations in the last year of a president's term, but that is just not true. A Democratic Senate unanimously confirmed Justice Kennedy in President Reagan's last year in office.

So I am truly hoping that Republican leaders reverse course on this. The Supreme Court plays such an important role in protecting the rights, liberties and responsibilities of all Americans from women's health and rights, to workers' rights, the environment, campaign finance and more. But in order to function for our families, the court shouldn't have vacancies and potential deadlocks at every turn.

I'm not arguing for Republicans to simply rubber stamp anyone the president sends us — of course not. I know I will personally be evaluating any nominee using my long-held standards: Are they qualified? Are they honest, ethical, and fair? Will they be independent and even-handed? And will they uphold our rights and our liberties, including the critical right to privacy? I would like to ask those questions of a nominee on behalf of Washington state families, but I can't do that unless Republicans let us act.

Making sure Washington state families have a voice on issues like these is what drove me to run for the United States Senate. Back in 1991, so many of us watched the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings on television, and we were frustrated. We couldn't believe that he wasn't pushed on the issues we cared about most, and we didn't think that the members of that committee represented the full spectrum of perspectives in our communities. So I ran for office to be a voice for families like mine, and I have worked hard to make sure Washington state families have a seat at the table in the debate over nominees for the highest court in the land.

I consider that to be our job as United States senators, and I am hoping that Republican leaders will put politics aside and let us do it.

Education is Senator Murray's past, present and future. She was a preschool teacher who first got into politics when state preschool funding was threatened, and now, she can’t stress enough the importance of education, specifically early childhood education.
Senator Murray introduces legislation to return the skeleton found along the Columbia River in 1996 to a coalition of Columbia Basin tribes after a scientific study completed in June at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark concluded that the DNA from the 8,500-year-old bones of Kennewick Man is related to that of contemporary Native Americans, including those who have lived in the region where his bones were found.
Two Democratic members of Washington’s congressional delegation on Thursday delivered an appeal to the Republican-run Congress: Don’t kill the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The LWCF, established 50 years ago, uses a portion of revenues from the federal government’s offshore oil and gas leases to pay for conservation and recreation programs, often in matching grands with the state. It has invested $637 million in Washington, saving old-growth forests in Southwest Washington, establishing wildlife refuges and buying up mine holdings in our national parks.