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Wisconsin: Paid sick, family leave on tap

Wisconsin legislators approved a statewide ban on local laws requiring employers to pay for worker sick or family leave this week, a move restaurateurs are watching as legislative issues like this gain steam nationwide.

Wisconsin Senate Bill 23, which was approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on March 3, found concurrence Tuesday among the GOP members who dominate the Assembly. It is now on its way to the desk of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is expected to sign the bill into law.

“He supports it,” Walker’s press secretary Cullen Werwie said in an e-mail to Nation’s Restaurant News late Wednesday.

The bill will block counties, cities, towns and villages within 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 statewide measure does allow workers to substitute other forms of compensated time off, if any, such as vacation, should they need to miss work to recover from illness or care for a child, spouse or parent.

According to Wisconsin state lobbying records, SB 23 was backed by at least 17 business groups, including the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, Wisconsin Hotel & Lodging Association and Wisconsin Independent Business. It was opposed by at least eight other organizations, including the Coalition of Wisconsin Aging Groups, League of Women Voters and Wisconsin State AFL-CIO, those records show.

The pending law also will void any existing local laws dealing with family or sick leave, including a paid sick leave law in Milwaukee that has been challenged by some employer groups, including the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce Inc., or MMAC, since its approval by more than two-thirds of voters in November of 2008.

The MMAC and other opponents contend that a variety of local leave measures would be difficult to manage for larger employers with facilities in multiple jurisdictions and could possibly put the state at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to attracting jobs.

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

The existing Wisconsin law that will pre-empt or void all others in the area of family and sick leave 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 to care for seriously ill children, spouses or parents, or to care for newborns or adopted children. Qualifying workers at the targeted-sized firms also may take up to two weeks of unpaid leave for treatment and recuperation from illness, the Wisconsin law holds.

The Milwaukee voter-approved law that would be struck down enables full-time workers to earn an hour of sick leave for every nine hours worked, up to nine days of leave per year; companies with 10 or fewer employees need only provide up to five days of earned paid sick leave annually. Unlike the Wisconsin statewide measure, the Milwaukee law permits leave for the care of relatives other than children, spouses and parents, as well as provides leave for attending to medical or legal issues tied to domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking. It was supported by the non-profit 9to5, National Association of Working Women, among others.

Milwaukee, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., are believed to be the only jurisdictions in the nation with laws requiring employers to provide employees with paid sick leave. Reactions to paid sick leave proposals have varied by organization and by the scope of the proposal being considered.

Officials of the Golden Gate Restaurant Association, with members in San Francisco, said they did not contest the law because it offers substantial benefits to employees and guests. However, officials of the California Restaurant Association have said that group opposes statewide sick leave measures, or “one-size-fits-all” approaches, as the industry is diverse and the issue can be addressed through voluntary and cooperative efforts among employers and employees.

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Contact Alan Liddle at [email protected] 

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