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Sick leave law would trump bargaining

Sean Ryan
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The sick leave guidelines Milwaukee released Wednesday confirmed industry fears that the ordinance would override paid time-off provisions in contractors’ collective-bargaining agreements.

“Everybody understands what the goal is, but the problem with that is you have, within the construction industry, well-paid, well-benefited crafts,” said Mike Fabishak, chief executive of the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee Inc. “The key is that it’s a negotiated item. It’s just the way our system operates.”

Milwaukee this month will accept public comments on its draft rules that tell businesses how to comply with the sick leave law that city voters approved by referendum in November. The law affords employees at companies with more than 10 workers up to nine sick days a year, while workers at smaller companies receive up to five sick days.

The sick law was to go into effect Feb. 10, but was put on hold while a Milwaukee County Circuit Court considers a lawsuit that challenges it. There is a May 11 hearing scheduled in the case.

The implementation rules are similar to those San Francisco enacted in 2007, said Daniel Finerty, an attorney with Godfrey & Kahn SC, Milwaukee. Finerty is helping businesses prepare for the law by answering questions about topics such as the documentation an employer can require from an employee to show why he took a sick day.

However, the rules do not include San Francisco’s exemptions for collective-bargaining agreements. For example, San Francisco honors collective-bargaining agreement rules dictating how much notification employees must provide before taking a sick day.

Fabishak said the AGC will advocate for a similar collective-bargaining agreement exemption.

Eric M. Johnson, president of South Star Inc., a Milwaukee trucking company, said he doesn’t know how the ordinance would affect his collective-bargaining agreement with Milwaukee Laborer’s Local 113. The union’s contract doesn’t require a certain number of days off for workers, but rather sets aside a portion of paychecks to go into a vacation account, Johnson said. Workers receive money from the account twice a year.

“It’s really not tied to any time off,” he said. “If this thing is really about monies, that will be something the union can look at and change the definition of.”

South Star employees aren’t paid when they call in to take a day off, Johnson said. The system of sick or vacation is more informal; employees simply call in if they can’t work but don’t accrue a set amount of time off for hours worked.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 494, Milwaukee, found a way to comply with the sick leave law without affecting employers, said business representative Tim Hanson. Local 494 allows employees to take money out of their vacation accounts only three times a year, he said, but the union will change the agreement to allow them to withdraw money whenever they want to, he said. That change, combined with the existing agreement requiring employers to accept requests for sick days in most cases, will satisfy the ordinance, he said.

“The employer cannot deny (a sick day request) unless more than 15 percent of their employees can’t come in,” Hanson said. “That only happens during deer hunting.”

To read the full list of rules governing the implementation of the sick leave law, visit

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