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Wisconsin bill looks to block local paid sick leave laws

The Wisconsin Senate passed legislation Thursday that could derail a voter-approved, but court-contested, paid sick leave law in Milwaukee.

Milwaukee, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are among the few jurisdictions in the nation with laws requiring employers to provide workers with paid sick leave, but a recent survey and report about the San Francisco measure may have operators in other markets wondering if their city might be next.

Wisconsin’s Senate Bill 23 passed in the Senate after all 19 Republican lawmakers voted affirmatively on the measure and all 14 Democrats abstained from voting. Wisconsin Democrats have made themselves scarce in recent weeks in an effort to slow Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled legislature in their bid to cut a state budget deficit by reducing the pay and collective bargaining rights of public employees.

If approved by the Assembly after it convenes Tuesday and later signed by Walker, SB 23 would block counties, cities, towns and villages in Wisconsin from passing their own worker health or family leave laws in favor of an earlier adopted statewide measure that has no provisions for paid leave. The bill also would void any existing local laws dealing with family or sick leave, including the paid-leave law in Milwaukee that has been challenged by some employers since its approval by more than two-thirds of the voters in a November 2008 election.

The Wisconsin law that would be made the statewide standard should SB 23 be approved applies only to companies with 50 or more permanent employees. It provides for up to six weeks of unpaid leave for workers who have been on the job at least a year and have worked at least 1,000 hours in order to care for seriously ill immediate family members or newborns or adopted children. Qualifying workers also may take up to two weeks of unpaid leave for treatment and recuperation from illness.

Milwaukee’s law enables full-time workers to accrue an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked to amass up to nine days of paid leave per year, though companies with 10 or fewer employees need only provide up to five days of paid sick leave annually. Unlike the statewide measure, the Milwaukee law permits paid leave for the care of relatives other than children, spouses and parents, and provides paid leave for attending to medical or legal issues tied to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. It was supported by the non-profit 9to5 and the National Association of Working Women, among others.

Senate Bill 23 sprang from employer concerns about the Milwaukee law and the potential for a “patchwork quilt” of different or conflicting leave laws across the state. Among the opponents of the Milwaukee law is the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Inc., which contends a variety of local leave measures would be difficult to manage for larger employers with facilities in multiple jurisdictions and could put the state at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs.

The MMAC has challenged the Milwaukee measure in court, contending that the employer mandate should be tossed out because the ballot measure that spawned it allegedly did not provide voters all the information required by law, according to court documents. The case is now before the Wisconsin appellate courts on a motion by supporters of the measure, but the MMAC’s Julie Granger said her group sees SB 23 as a court-free answer to the Milwaukee law.

“[SB 23] would prevent a patchwork” of local measures, said Granger, vice president of communications for MMAC. “We think this would be the most fair application of the law.”

Contact Alan J. Liddle at [email protected].

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