Thursday, May 5, 2011

Popular Milwaukee Law Continues to Serve as an Example for Paid Sick Day Legislation Nationwide

Madison, WI—In the latest attack on Wisconsin families, Governor Walker signed a bill today that seeks to undermine local control statewide and attempts to nullify the Milwaukee paid sick days law, approved by nearly 70% of city voters in 2008. Just a few weeks ago, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a decision to uphold the law.

“The override of the Milwaukee sick days aw is an assault on democracy, local control, and working families,” said Dana Schultz, Lead Organizer for 9to5, National Association of Working Women. “Voters can see that the Governor and State Legislature are more committed to paying back their corporate donors than creating good jobs for Wisconsin.

Despite the actions by Walker and state lawmakers, advocates pointed to the growing efforts to enact paid sick days bills in other cities and states, efforts that were inspired by the groundbreaking Milwaukee law. In Philadelphia, a paid sick days bill was passed out of a City Council committee a few weeks ago, and in Connecticut, the state legislature is moving forward on a bill with bipartisan support. Paid sick days legislation in New York City has 35 City Council sponsors, legislation is about to be introduced in Seattle, and more than a dozen states have coalitions advocating actively for paid sick days and paid family leave policies. San Francisco and Washington, DC have already implemented paid sick days laws.

“Across the country, cities and states are passing paid sick day laws to protect working people and public health and help strengthen local economies,” said Schultz. “We’re proud that Milwaukee’s win helped spur those campaigns. The anti-worker majority in Madison may try to stop Milwaukee’s victory, but they can’t stop this movement.”

Schultz also pointed to continued work by the coalition supporting national paid sick days legislation. And 9to5 is working with small businesses in Milwaukee to promote voluntary adoption of family-friendly policies.

The bill (AB41/SB 23) signed by Governor Walker is designed to steal the Milwaukee victory and preempt local governments and voters from enacting similar legislation. The bill passed the Assembly in a near party-line vote of 59 to 35; the state Senate passed it with no debate when the Democratic senators were still absent in early March.

“Wisconsinites need a government that works for the people that elected them, not for a narrow group of corporate interests,” said Sheila Cochran, Milwaukee Area Labor Council President. “The Governor and his associates have disregarded the will of the voters, the decision of the court and opened the door to reverse local control wherever they see fit.”

Wisconsin has a rich history of local governance, in which municipalities enact legislation that addresses the needs of their communities. In 2008, nearly 70% of Milwaukee voters approved a law to provide paid sick days for workers in the city. A few weeks ago, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a decision to uphold the law, which would provide 120,000 Milwaukee families who do not have paid sick days of the freedom to take care of ill family members without fear of losing their jobs or a paycheck.

As the Court of Appeals said in its ruling upholding the ordinance, “With respect to paid versus unpaid sick leave, it is reasonable to conclude that paid sick leave will induce more employees to take time off work when necessary for their health and the health of their families.”
New research on similar laws in other cities shows significant benefits for workers and minimal impact on businesses. A study last month of San Francisco’s paid sick days law shows business concerns about job loss were unfounded, with six in seven employers saying that paid sick days have had no negative effect on profitability and two-thirds of employers surveyed supporting the law. Other studies have shown that employees are healthier and more productive when they have access to paid sick days.

Proponents of AB 41 claim the bill provides a uniform statewide family and medical leave policy (FMLA), but sponsors made clear the measure was designed explicitly to overturn the Milwaukee paid sick day law. The state and federal FMLA laws that have been in effect since 1988 and 1993, respectively, provide a policy for longer-term sick leave, but do not cover time off for routine illness or medical needs related to diagnosis, preventative care, or to seek services to deal with the horror of domestic or sexual assault. FMLA also applies only to companies of 50 or more; half the workforce is not covered. And the time is unpaid.

The large and diverse Paid Sick Days Coalition, led by 9to5, includes labor groups, health groups, civil rights and faith organizations, advocates for children and jobs and an end to domestic violence.

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