The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

The student news site of Marquette University

Marquette Wire

Area businesses challenge paid sick leave referendum

  • The sick leave referendum passed by voters last week is being challenged by a group representing more than 2,000 area businesses
  • The group claims the wording of the measure was misleading, understating the effect the ordinance would have on businesses
  • The state director of 9to5, Amy Stear, said the ordinance is beneficial for all parties involved

The paid sick leave referendum passed by Milwaukee voters last week is being brought into question by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.

The MMAC, an organization that represents more than 2,000 Milwaukee-area businesses, said, "the ordinance exceeds the legislative authority of the city (of Milwaukee)," in a claim filed with the Milwaukee City Clerk's office Wednesday.

The claim could lead to a lawsuit against the ordinance.

The referendum, which 68 percent of voters supported on the Nov. 4 ballot, requires employers located within the city of Milwaukee to provide benefits totaling one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 worked. San Francisco and Washington, D.C., have similar sick leave ordinances.

The MMAC claims the ordinance gives the city of Milwaukee unfair power over businesses located outside of the city, and that it is inconsistent with federal and state laws regarding sick leave.

MMAC President Tim Sheehy said his group opposes the ordinance in part because he says the legislation's wording is misleading.

"While we respect the decision by the city of Milwaukee's voters, we are disappointed that they were not given a fair picture of the full impact of this referendum on Milwaukee jobs," he said.

Sheehy said issues like this are best left up to individual businesses, and that a blanket approach will not be effective.

"This costly, one-size-fits-all government mandate will have a devastating impact on city businesses in an already unstable economy," he said.

Sheehy said the ordinance is too expensive, and will be damaging on businesses currently located within the city limits. He also warned about the effects the ordinance might have on attracting businesses to Milwaukee.

"This mandate will make the city of Milwaukee an island of regulation, discouraging business development in the region's core business district and scaring away potential employers who want to locate in the city," he said.

"As well-meaning as this mandate is, it is seriously flawed and presents a serious risk to Milwaukee jobs and businesses," he said.

9to5, the National Association of Working Women, pushed hard for the ordinance to pass, including collecting signatures on a petition to get it on the ballot. Amy Stear, the Wisconsin chapter's director, said the MMAC's claim is misguided.

"We believe that that is wrong-headed, particularly given the size of the victory," Stear said. "This is something that we believe makes sense for the business community to sit up and take notice of. People who provide labor to make their businesses successful are communicating with them that this matters."

Steve Baas, MMAC's director of government affairs, said the ordinance will cost Milwaukeeans further jobs in an already bleak market.

"It will leave (workers) longing for the days when their biggest employment worry was the number of sick days they received," he said.

Though the ordinance is supposed to go into effect within 90 days of the election, Baas said its enforcement should be held off until the issue is settled.

"It doesn't make sense either practically or competitively to force businesses to completely revamp their personnel policies while there are open questions about the legality of the ordinance itself," Baas said.

But just because businesses may suffer financially doesn't mean the ordinance should be repealed, said Marquette Law Professor Paul Secunda.

"The fact that the business group believes the ordinance will cause them economic harm is not grounds for setting the ordinance aside," Secunda wrote in a Web log post.

The MMAC is now taking a closer look at the ordinance, and if the conclusion is that it's illegal, a lawsuit will likely follow.

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