In The News
Sick leave decision heads for appeal, spurs national effort
By Dominique Paul Noth
Editor, Milwaukee Labor Press
On one thing Judge Thomas Cooper was right. At the May hearing on the case in Milwaukee Circuit Court, Cooper mused from the bench that he would be far from the last word – that however he ruled, the other side was bound to appeal.
He was dealing with the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce’s lawsuit to stop what nearly 70% of city voters supported last November – mandating private employers to provide a minimum of paid sick days.
Statistics indicated that the lack of paid sick leave particularly impacted working mothers with low-paying jobs. Reporting also revealed a surprising number of companies that would make employees quit rather than giving them time for sick children.
Considerable legal talent and supportive briefs had been lined up on both sides, noted Cooper, for MMAC and by 9to5, the working women organization that had led the campaign for the ordinance.
Sure enough, when Cooper on June 12 ruled in favor the MMAC, an immediate appeal was promised by the legion of supporters for the ordinance, including the Milwaukee Area Labor Council. The appeal clearly had grounds.
Curiously enough, the newspaper normally quickly posts copies of police complaints and court decisions at jsonline. But it didn’t do so with Cooper’s 39-page decision. It simply provided a video from the winning side and promoted a forum where a number of suburban dwellers could rant against paid sick days.
If the newspaper had posted the decision promptly, the comments might have changed. Readers would have discovered that ruling did not support MMAC on their major economic issues but decided that including domestic violence as a reason for time off stretched the legal bounds.
The judge did not simply sever this element from the final ordinance.
So ironically, preference for employees coughing into a customer’s soup was the first salvo against the ordinance. And the second one that MMAC proudly embraced was not allowing protection from domestic violence.
Certainly, despite the MMAC hysterics, cost never seemed an issue, since it was minimal. In general terms and with other restraints and monitoring, the ordinance limits the benefit to nine days for workers in large companies and five days for workers in small businesses. It also sets a one-hour gain in paid time for every 30 hours worked, which means it would take a couple of months for most workers to earn one day off.
Since the Milwaukee ordinance passed, the paid sick day movement has made major gains. Several states are far down the road in passing their own versions, which apparently do not raise constitutional issues. Wisconsin may well follow suit as a state.
And most notable is the Healthy Families Act, a federal bill wending its way through Congress with major support. Not just from members of the House and Senate. Another backer is Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, who opposed a sick day ordinance limited to the city.
So whatever the appeal results in the Milwaukee case, the city ordinance so broadly supported by the citizens emerges as the start of a national movement, not a closing chapter.