Today, we celebrate victory at the Wisconsin Court of Appeals: The court ruled unanimously to uphold Milwaukee’s paid sick days ordinance, which sets a minimum floor of paid sick days for workers in the city. At a time when the news has been full of unthinkable stories out of Wisconsin — hard-fought rights being unfairly stripped from public employees while hundreds of thousands of people march in support of workers — this paid sick days victory is sweet.
Unfortunately, this victory could be short-lived. Legislators in Wisconsin have been fast-tracking Senate Bill 23 (Assembly Bill 41), which would nullify Milwaukee’s voter-approved — and now court validated — paid sick days law, usurp the rights of the city’s voters, and threaten workers’ health and labor laws at the local level. The bill was already passed by the Senate and will soon be considered by the Assembly. A hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, March 30th.
In 2008, working families in Milwaukee spent countless hours fighting for a paid sick days law, circulating petitions, putting up yard signs and distributing educational materials to engage the community. In November of that year, more than two-thirds of the city’s voters overwhelmingly approved the law. Milwaukee became the third city in the nation to establish a paid sick days standard (along with San Francisco and Washington, D.C.), giving workers a few days each year to care for themselves or their loved ones without losing income or risking their jobs. Despite the clear will of the people, the business lobby in Milwaukee insisted on stalling the law by challenging it in court. This morning’s court decision should finally put an end to their anti-worker, anti-family tactics.
But now the Wisconsin legislature and the business lobby have set out to defeat Milwaukee’s law through other means. S.B. 23 (A.B. 41) would put the power to enact worker health and family leave laws in the hands of the Wisconsin state legislature alone, blocking counties, cities and towns from passing their own laws. Proponents wrongly claim it will create a more uniform and fair standard. In truth, the law will deny Milwaukee workers paid sick days and the right to maintain their family’s health and economic security.
Workers who don’t have access to paid sick time are forced to make impossible choices between paying their bills or putting food on the table, and the health of their family and the public. Take the Milwaukee bus driver who had to keep a bucket next to the driver’s seat when she had the stomach flu because she had no paid sick days and couldn’t afford to take a day off — much less lose her job — to recover. Or take the mother whose boss had her bring her seven-year-old daughter who was sick and contagious with pink-eye to work instead of staying home with her. These are the stories of just two of the 44 million workers in the U.S. without paid sick days — and they demonstrate the very real impact a lack of paid sick days can have on working families and the public’s health.
Fortunately, advocates and legislators in nearly 20 states and cities are pushing this year to enact paid sick days laws similar to Milwaukee’s. Bills in Philadelphia and Connecticut are moving swiftly toward enactment. Like the Milwaukee voters who voted in favor of a paid sick days standard, people all across the country recognize that everyone suffers when working families don’t have access to basic rights like job-protected paid sick time. We won’t give up in Wisconsin, or anywhere. In the end, we will get there.