Restaurateurs vow to challenge Milwaukee’s paid sick leave law

MILWAUKEE The Wisconsin Restaurant Association and a coalition of other business groups plan to sue the city of Milwaukee over the recent passage of a ballot measure requiring employers to provide paid sick leave to workers.

The measure, which was approved by 68 percent of Milwaukee voters, would require private employers in the city to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, for a total of up to nine days of paid leave per calendar year. Employers with fewer than 10 workers would have to provide up to five days of sick leave per year. Employees are not entitled to paid leave until they have worked for 90 days.

The ordinance is scheduled to take effect 100 days from its Nov. 4 passage.

WRA president and chief executive Ed Lump maintained, however, that Milwaukee does not have the authority to pass such a measure. "State law is pretty clear," he said. "This kind of legislation is reserved for the state."

Passage of the law makes Milwaukee the third city in the nation to mandate paid sick leave. San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have similar mandates on the books.

More than a dozen states and localities have introduced mandatory paid leave proposals this year, while nearly a dozen others have defeated similar initiatives. In addition, Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., have sponsored companion bills in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate that would require employers to provide paid leave to their workers.

Lump said WRA members were "strongly against" the ordinance, saying that it would be very difficult to comply with the new regulations.

The coalition intends to file an injunction next week to prevent the enactment of the ordinance. The lawsuit will be filed some time after that, Lump said.

"Obviously, if this is allowed to stand, not only will it cause hardship for our industry, but it will send a chilling message to all businesses in Milwaukee," Lump said.

He also warned the measure could have "a spillover effect" and inspire similar actions in other municipalities.

Other members of the coalition against the paid sick leave measure include the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce, the Wisconsin Innkeepers Association and the state convention and visitors bureau.

The National Restaurant Association has characterized paid sick leave as "a key emerging issue" for the foodservice industry.