Educate All Students: Larry Miller's Blog

March 24, 2011

Court of Appeals reinstates Milwaukee sick pay law: This is what Democracy Looks Like

Filed under: American Injustice — millerlf @ 2:48 pm

By Georgia Pabst and Sharif Durhams of the Journal Sentinel

Updated: March 24, 2011

The Wisconsin Court of Appeals on Thursday upheld Milwaukee’s paid sick-day ordinance, which was halted by an injunction two years ago.

The injunction sought by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce prevented the city from mandating that private-sector employees must offer paid sick leave to all full-time, part-time and temporary employees.

The business organization called the ordinance a job killer for the city and has challenged the legality of the measure, which was passed with 69% of the vote in the November 2008 election.

Supporters argued that workers should not be forced to choose between being sick or caring for a sick child and a paycheck.

Robert Kraig of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said the decision was a victory for democracy. “Seventy percent of Milwaukee voters voted for this. Close to 40,000 people signed a petition in favor of it.”

“We think it is very good policy for the vast majority of Milwaukee voters,” he said.

The decision also is good news for working people who want to stay in their jobs and support families, Kraig said.

“We’re obviously disappointed with the decision,” Steve Baas, director of governmental affairs for the MMAC, said in a call from Chicago. MMAC officials, including president Tim Sheehy, are scattered all over the country today trying to attract jobs, he said.

“Meanwhile, we get a ruling like this that will make it more expensive to bring jobs to Milwaukee. It’s an ironic whammy,” he said. “It will have a chilling effect on the economy and will be bad for our competitiveness.”

MMAC attorneys are still reviewing the decision, he said. And the organization will continue to look for ways to get rid of the ordinance, including working to pass pending state legislation in Madison that would nullify the city’s ordinance.

A bill passed by the state Senate would nullify the city’s ordinance. It would require family and medical leave to be uniform throughout the state and would not allow a city, village, town or county to enact an ordinance to provide employees with more leave. Baas said the MMAC have been working closely with legislators to get that measure passed.

The city’s paid sick day ordinance would require large businesses to provide employees with up to nine sick days a year, while small businesses would have to provide up to five sick days.

In the ruling, the Court of Appeals wrote that the ordinance does not violate any of the statutory or constitutional provisions raised by the MMAC, which sued the city.

After the law was passed, its constitutionality was immediately challenged in the courts. Mayor Tom Barrett also opposed the law. The city refused to join the legal challenge.

Thursday Barrett said he continues to oppose the paid sick day law. “My concern is that it only affects the City of Milwaukee,” he said.

In June 2009, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Thomas Cooper halted the ordinance.

After the lower court ruling, 9 to 5, National Association of Working Women, the group that led the coalition of community groups that brought the proposal to a vote, appealed.

But the Court of Appeals, after hearing the case, sent it to the Supreme Court.

Last October the high court sent the law back to the Court of Appeals for a ruling after the justices tied 3-3 on whether to affirm or reverse the circuit court decision.

The tie resulted after Justice Annette Ziegler recused herself. Justices David T. Prosser, Patience Drake Roggensack and Michael J. Gableman voted to affirm the lower court decision.

Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, along with Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and N. Patrick Crooks voted to reverse the decision.

Don Walker of the Journal Sentinel staff contributed to this article.

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