In 2008, Milwaukee, Wisconsin became the third U.S. city — after San Francisco and Washington, DC — to require paid sick leave for workers, thanks to a referendum overwhelmingly approved by the city’s voters. However, back in May, Wisconsin’s Republican legislature passed, and notoriously anti-worker Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) signed, a bill that took away the ability of cities to decide for themselves whether they want to mandate paid sick leave.
The sick days law has been tied up in the courts ever since, but yesterday, the Milwaukee County Circuit Court officially said that the state is within its rights to nullify Milwaukee’s law:
After three years of legal and political wrangling over the Milwaukee paid sick-day law that voters approved but business groups denounced, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Cooper declared Thursday afternoon: “It’s over.”
In doing so he found the city law, passed by 69% of voters in November 2008 and upheld by the state Court of Appeals in March, was moot because of state legislation approved in April that voided it.
“I don’t feel real good about how this happened politically,” he said in announcing his ruling.
Judge Cooper said the bill was perfectly targeted to negate Milwaukee’s paid sick days law. “You put a bull’s-eye on paid sick days,” he said. The ruling comes on the heels of a few wins by proponents of paid sick days, as Connecticut became the first state to require them and residents of Denver got the issue onto November’s ballot. Philadelphia’s city council also approved a sick days bill recently, only to see it vetoed by Mayor Michael Nutter.
At the moment, the U.S. is all alone in the industrialized world in not mandating some form of paid time off for workers, and the U.S. economy as a whole loses $180 billion in productivity annually due to sick employees attending work and infecting other workers. Lack of sick days is a particularly acute problem in the food services industry (where sick workers attending work is obviously even more problematic). It’s a shame that the anti-worker fervor of Wisconsin’s Republicans goes so far as to nullify a law that the people of Milwaukee clearly wanted.