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Sick-leave lives despite Milwaukee ruling

Amy Stear, Wisconsin director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, speaks outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse on Friday as she promises to appeal the Milwaukee County Circuit Court ruling that voids Milwaukee’s sick-leave law.   Photo by Sean Ryan

Amy Stear, Wisconsin director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, speaks outside the Milwaukee County Courthouse on Friday as she promises to appeal the Milwaukee County Circuit Court ruling that voids Milwaukee’s sick-leave law. Photo by Sean Ryan

Sean Ryan
sean.ryan@dailyreporter.com

Federal proposals and the promise of an appeal mean sick-leave requirements did not die when a Milwaukee judge rejected the city’s law.

One of the defendants in the case, 9to5, National Association of Working Women, promised Friday to appeal Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper’s decision to void the Milwaukee sick-leave law.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce sued to overturn the law, and Steve Baas, MMAC director of government affairs, said the organization will defend Cooper’s decision in appeals.

“This is a significant victory,” Baas said. “It is the ruling that now any future court would have to act affirmatively to overturn. The status quo, legally, on this issue has been set by this ruling.”

But even if 9to5’s appeal fails, the federal Healthy Families Act, which would require employees accrue at least seven days of sick leave a year based on hours worked, has a real chance of passing, said Daniel Finerty, an attorney with Godfrey & Kahn SC, Milwaukee. So MMAC’s victory is not the last that companies will hear of the requirements, he said.

“MMAC won the first round, and an appeal can go either way,” said Finerty, who is consulting businesses on sick-leave mandates. “It depends on the judges that hear the appeal, and it depends on any number of things.

“So any companies that have a paid sick-leave policy, No. 1, they should keep it on the top of their desk because this decision could be appealed. No. 2, they could be facing seven days if the Healthy Families Act passes.”

The federal law, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., had a public hearing Thursday before the U.S. House of Representatives Education and Labor Subcommittee on Workforce Protections. And the federal action was boosted, at least in part, by passage of city sick-leave laws in Milwaukee, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., said Karen Minatelli, director of work and family programs for the National Partnership for Women & Families.

“I don’t think the (Milwaukee court decision) would give anyone the impression that there shouldn’t be national legislation,” she said.

The laws worked in San Francisco and Washington, and members of Congress are more familiar with the topic than in past years when sick-leave bills failed to get House committee hearings, Minatelli said.

Information in a press statement attributed to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett said he supports the federal sick-leave law. Enacting a local law would create regulations that only affect the city, according to the statement, so federal laws are preferred.

Finerty said it is an astute observation because federal rules have a good chance of passing, especially considering President Barack Obama was one of the sponsors of sick-leave laws when he was a senator.

“The fact that federal mandated paid sick leave may be on the horizon is a real possibility, more than it has been in the past,” Finerty said.

The federal law would require fewer sick days than the Milwaukee law that was overturned Friday. The Milwaukee law would have required employees working in the city receive up to one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked in the city. Employees of companies with fewer than 10 workers would have received up to five sick days, and those working for larger companies would have accrued up to nine days.

Throughout the trial, Cooper said he anticipated his decision would be appealed by the losing party.

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