In The News
POLITICAL NOTES: Barrett calls in sick on referendum
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Labor Press
After considerable pressure from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, Mayor Tom Barrett on Oct. 23 praised the dedication and “hard work” of the organizers of the binding Paid Sick Day referendum on the Nov. 4 city ballot, but said he would not support it.
Undeterred, organized labor immediately indicated it would continue full-throated support for largely non-union workers (most union members already have such benefits) and would back the Paid Sick Day Ordinance, which would mandate one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked by an employee in the city.
“We need jobs, and we need benefits!” noted Sheila D. Cochran, chief operating officer and secretary-treasurer for the 52,000 members (plus partners) of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, “So on November 4th we’ll vote for it.”
Cochran was chosen by the mayor to sit on his new Workforce Investment Board and offer counsel on how to put more of Milwaukee to work in jobs and careers.
Barrett conceded he was still concerned about making businesses create family-supporting jobs – a centerpiece of his move to take over workforce development – but in his press release blamed the current economic difficulties for his resistance. He said he feared putting Milwaukee at a “competitive disadvantage” with surrounding suburbs and cities through an ordinance.
The only existing evidence contradicts the fears of the MMAC and the mayor, noted the Institute of Women’s Policy Research (IWPR), the D.C. based nonpartisan center that surveyed the results of San Francisco’s 2007 similar ordinance. It found job gains by San Francisco “just as strong” and even substantially stronger than surrounding counties after the ordinance was imposed – all this despite a nationwide economic slowdown.
It is “reassuring evidence that paid sick days can be implemented in Milwaukee and other places without a loss of jobs,” said the IWPR’s head of research.
The IWPR also found no or minor cost concerns from area businesses. Supporters of the Milwaukee ordinance, tongue in cheek, noted these reports came from the “radical left-wing” San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, which told that “notorious socialist rag” The Wall Street Journal, “we really have not heard much about it being a major issue.”
The Journal should have sent reporters to Milwaukee, where the MMAC has been beating the shrubs and holding forums sounding an alarm about requiring businesses to supply their workers with a minimum number of paid sick days.
Without openly agreeing with this MMAC pressure, Barrett said he wanted a solution “at the federal level” to the issue. He also said he believed “strongly that employees should not be put in a position where they have to choose between a paycheck and their own health or that of their children,” which is currently clearly the case in thousands of Milwaukee jobs.
Waiting for the federal government to act is not right when the city can step forward and become a beacon of respect for workers, noted the ordinance’s sponsors, led by Wisconsin 9to5. More than 40,000 citizens are already on record supporting the ordinance in ballot petitions.
Labor support is even stronger after Barrett’s resistance, suggested Cochran.
“Our mayor, the Jobs Mayor, has been hounded by his business supporters," she said. “Well, I get the MMAC newsletter too. They have called the mayor and convinced the mayor that a Paid Sick Day is just too costly.”
“But what comes with a job? Benefits -- not all jobs but really good jobs have benefits. In Milwaukee it is obvious that one of the benefits that a lot of people have is a paid sick day.
“So the community will speak and we will support having paid time off in the city of Milwaukee."