Voters to decide on sick-leave referendum

  • A referendum is on the ballot that will compensate anyone for sick leave from work
  • Some think this referendum will help keep people in a job and enable them to take care of themselves and their families
  • Some industries will be affected because they work such details out in collective bargaining agreements

Anyone feeling sick will have to wait until Nov. 4 to figure out whether they should stay home or go to work.

If passed, a referendum on today's ballot would allow employees to take sick leave based on the hours they work. Full-time employees can get up to nine days off a year.

According to the 9to5 Web site, all private employees in Milwaukee would be covered as well as temporary and full-time employees. Milwaukee would join San Francisco and Washington, D.C., as cities that require paid sick leave.

Sangita Nayak, the Milwaukee lead organizer of 9to5, the National Association of Working Women, said she thinks this referendum needs to pass.

"This will help working women keep their jobs," Nayak said. "A lot of working women are forced to make decisions whether to care for their families or keep their job."

9to5 is responsible for getting the referendum on the ballot after collecting about 42,000 signatures in 60 days. Nayak said she thinks that passing this referendum will be more beneficial to an employer than cost worthy.

"This is only creating a minimum standard for sick leave," Nayak said. "It's kind of like a minimum wage. We're just asking for a little bit here and there." It is not just employees taking care of themselves, but their families as well.

"It's a step, but we're trying to make sure people aren't losing a job over themselves or a child," Nayak said. "It's preventive care before someone ends up in the hospital. This doesn't replace good management as you make sure your staff is doing what they need to do to succeed."

According to the Web site, paid sick leave can be taken for medical treatment or diagnosis by an employer and for a close family member who is sick or needs a diagnosis.

Rebecca Manz, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, is 9to5's on-campus ambassador.

"I was told that about 65 (University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee) students got together last spring to petition," Manz said. "I was disappointed that no Marquette students knew about it."

Manz is working to spread word around Marquette's campus by passing out literature, getting her friends involved and setting up a table in the Alumni Memorial Union.

"We had a student day on Saturday," Manz said. "Seven students and I went out to get people on campus informed. We also went a little bit farther to put literature on cars and to talk to people."

Manz said she feels this referendum will have an impact on anyone who works in Milwaukee, which is why she is so adamant about getting people to vote on it.

While Manz and Nayak both think paid sick leave will be beneficial to employees, some are opposed to the referendum being passed.

John Topp, the chief executive of the Allied Construction Employers Association, said he would like to keep paid sick leave in-house.

"This thing would be very detrimental to our industry," Topp said. "The primary reason is that we are a collectively bargained industry. We work out our compensation between the two parties. It just shouldn't be unduly influenced by third parties outside the collective bargaining realm."

Topp said he feels the referendum should have should have gone through a legislative review process because then the ACEA would have had a chance to plead their case to the legislature and perhaps be exempt. If the bill is passed, it will have a tremendous impact on some businesses.

When taking into account employee salaries and the days they will miss, Topp said, businesses in the ACEA are set to lose a large amount of money.

"The potential cost of businesses could be in excess of $43 million annually," Topp said. "We are being taxed for something we take care of ourselves. We work out these details."

The ACEA's collective bargaining agreements currently make provisions for time off for its members. Topp said he thinks that anyone who is not getting these benefits should think twice about their employer.

"If someone is working for an employer without compassion of someone taking care of a sick child, I would be looking for a different place to work," Topp said.

Despite some industries being in disagreement, Topp, Nayak and Manz all think the bill will most likely be passed.

"We're hearing from the streets that people want this," Nayak said. "The benefits of paid sick days outweigh the costs."