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City on the fence as sick leave goes to appeal

Sean Ryan

Both sides of the sick-leave debate are pressuring Milwaukee officials as they consider whether the city should join the appeal against a court decision rejecting the law.

City leaders say they are still on the fence but have nearly two months to decide before the court deadline to file an appeal.

Alderman Ashanti Hamilton, chairman of the city’s Judiciary and Legislation Committee, said he is receiving hundreds of calls and e-mails from constituents arguing for and against city involvement in the impending sick-leave lawsuit in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.

“There are a few residents who are afraid that this (law) will make Milwaukee an island and chase businesses out,” he said.

Hamilton said he supports the sick-leave rules but does not know if he will support an appeal.

“I haven’t (decided),” he said, “and for various reasons. I wouldn’t mind having the opportunity to debate some of the issues at some of the hearings and allow some research on both sides to be discussed in an open forum.”

The sick-leave law, if enacted, would require workers get at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked in Milwaukee. Companies with fewer than 10 workers must offer at least five sick days, and larger companies must let employees accrue at least nine days. A Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge in June declared (PDF) the sick-leave law unconstitutional.

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett also has not decided whether to appeal the decision. He is discussing the issue with City Attorney Grant Langley, said Barrett spokeswoman Jodie Tabak.

City leaders also are getting pressured to join the case by 9to5, National Association of Working Women. The organization Monday filed an appeal (PDF) asking the Wisconsin Court of Appeals to reverse the circuit court decision. The city’s support in an appeal would bolster 9to5’s case, said Sangita Nayak, lead organizer for the Milwaukee chapter of 9to5.

“We do believe it is the city’s job to help protect both the health and welfare of its people and protect the rights of its voters,” she said.

But Milwaukee businesses that are members of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce oppose the rules, and some are telling the city to stay out of the appeals case, said Steve Baas, MMAC director of government affairs. The MMAC filed the successful lawsuit challenging the sick-leave law and will defend the circuit court decision against the 9to5 appeal, he said.

“We’re disappointed that 9to5 is insisting on keeping this cloud of uncertainty hanging over the city,” Baas said.

Hamilton said the decision to join the appeal does not require Common Council approval, but he still wants aldermen to have a say in the discussion. He said he plans to schedule a public hearing on the question at a Judiciary and Legislation Committee meeting.

“Eventually, that’s the place where this discussion will take place,” Hamilton said. “And we want to take our time making that decision.”

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