A Milwaukee business group suing to overturn the city’s sick-leave law takes little solace in a pending bill to establish similar federal rules.
The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce argues Milwaukee’s sick-leave law puts employers in the city at a disadvantage when competing against companies that do not have to follow the mandate. And a federal bill, which would require employers with more than 15 workers provide at least seven sick days a year, will not provide much relief to city businesses, said Steve Baas, MMAC director of government affairs.
The association would oppose the federal bill, he said.
“We’re not crazy about government mandates at any level, be it local, state or federal,” Baas said. “The federal legislation is another example of how clumsily drafted the local ordinance is.”
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., will introduce sick-leave bills in the House and Senate later this week, according to a representative from DeLauro’s office. The bills would be based on proposed 2007 legislation that Congress never voted on.
Milwaukee’s sick-leave law supersedes federal rules because it sets a lower threshold for employees to be eligible for sick days and has a higher number of minimum sick days per year, said Ellen Bravo, coordinator of Family Values @ Work, a consortium of organizations supporting the federal sick-leave bills. Milwaukee’s rules require employers with more than 10 employees to give workers in Milwaukee up to nine days of sick leave. Companies with fewer than 10 employees must let workers accrue up to five sick days.
The recent scare from swine flu — or H1N1 virus — could add momentum to the federal sick-leave rules this year, Bravo said.
“We should be proud that what the voters said here in Milwaukee is helping to spur action on the federal level,” said Bravo, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
The referendum that got a Milwaukee sick-leave law approved helped push the reintroduction of the federal rules, said Amy Stear, Wisconsin director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women. Parts of the Milwaukee law, such as a requirement that sick days be accrued according to hours worked, also were incorporated into the federal rules, she said.
“We believe all workers should have paid sick days,” Stear said. “We also understand that the best way to change laws in our country is to change them on the local level first and then elevate them to the federal level.”
A Milwaukee County Circuit Court on Monday was to hear arguments in the lawsuit filed by the MMAC arguing the sick-leave law violates state and federal laws.
Baas said federal rules might level the playing field a bit for Milwaukee employers if the city law takes effect.
But, locally and federally, the mandates are a bad idea, he said.
“If it’s level and crappy, it’s better than uneven and crappy,” Baas said. “So if you had a federal standard that replaced a local standard, there would be some reason there.”