Depending on which side of the Milwaukee sick leave lawsuit is talking, the city’s decision to sit out the appeal is either a demonstration of political courage or a huge disappointment to voters.
“It really is a good demonstration of leadership from those folks, because there was a lot of pressure there,” said Steve Baas, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce director of government affairs. “They were really getting pounded.”
Representatives of the group that spent the past two months applying the pressure, 9to5, National Association of Working Women, argued the city is forsaking the 130,562 voters who approved the sick leave law in November.
“There has been a real effort from the community, from voters, to urge the city to join the appeal,” said Sangita Nayak, lead organizer for the Milwaukee chapter of 9to5, “so we are deeply disappointed.”
After voters passed the law, the MMAC filed a lawsuit challenging it in Milwaukee County Circuit Court. The 9to5 organization and city of Milwaukee defended the law, but a judge in June declared the law unconstitutional. The 9to5 organization appealed that ruling, and is opposed by the MMAC.
Milwaukee City Attorney Grant Langley’s office on Friday issued a printed statement saying Milwaukee will not join the appeal. According to the letter, city elected officials oppose joining the case.
The offices of Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Willie Hines, who were named in the statement, did not respond to calls for comment.
After filing its appeal, 9to5 organized more than 100 people to send letters to city officials and to speak in favor of the sick leave rules at city public hearings.
Nayak said she would not comment on whether there would be political repercussions at election time, but noted that elected officials in other states and in federal government are proposing sick leave legislation.
Baas said it’s not an issue of representing voters.
“The city has a responsibility to make sure that its ordinances are legal and constitutional,” he said, “and no matter how popular something may be at a given time, you still have to follow the law.”
Attorneys for MMAC and Nayak at 9to5 both said the city’s decision to stay on the sidelines should not affect the legal arguments in the appeals case.
The sick leave law would require people employed in the city of Milwaukee to accrue at least one hour of paid sick leave time for every 30 hours worked. Employees of companies with fewer than 10 workers would get up to five sick days, and those working for larger companies would accrue up to nine days.