Walker and Republicans Go Over the Heads of the People and the Courts to Squash Paid Sick Leave
This is how the ruling class rules. If it doesn’t get its way at the polls, it will do whatever it takes to defy the wishes of the public and prevail.
On November 4, 2008, 69 percent of the voters in Milwaukee passed a referendum requiring local businesses to give their workers paid sick leave. The ordinance said if you work for a company with fewer than 10 employees, you could accrue five days of paid sick leave a year. If you work for a bigger company, you could accrue nine days.
That’s not a huge amount. It doesn’t come close to what you get in Europe. For instance, in Germany you get six weeks paid sick leave.
But for the people of Milwaukee, it would have made a huge difference: Instead of having to choose between going to work sick or staying home and risk getting fired or losing pay, you could rest comfortably at home. Instead of having to choose between sending your sick kid to school or staying at home and risk getting docked, you could focus on tending to your child.
Not liking the results of democracy, business interests in Milwaukee tried to overturn the referendum in the courts. But after more than two years of legal challenges, they failed.
(Note: Some of the opponents of the ordinance argue that Clinton’s Family and Medical Leave Act was sufficient. But it applies only to companies with 50 or more employees, and the leave is unpaid. 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.”)
So the business groups went to the Republican legislature in Madison, which gratefully obliged. On Tuesday, the state assembly passed a bill, 59-35, that will not only void Milwaukee’s ordinance; it will also prohibit all other cities and counties in Wisconsin from offering paid sick leave on their own. The state senate passed the bill earlier in the year, when the Democrats were in Illinois.
This “is an assault on democracy, local control, and working families,” said Dana Schultz, lead organizer for 9to5, National Association of Working Women. 9to5 was one of the prime movers behind the ordinance.
“It’s just outrageous,” says Ellen Bravo, who helped found 9to5 and served as its national director until 2004. “They couldn’t convince the voters, and they couldn’t convince the court, so they went to the people they know they had in their pocket.”
If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story "Republicans Don’t Want to “Promote the General Welfare”."
Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter
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