Sicko: Milwaukee pols back off
By Roger Bybee at Aug 10, 2009
Sicko: Milwaukee officials won’t stand behind 69% vote for paid sick days
In the midst of a progressive wave repudiating the harsh and failed “free-market” policies of the Republicans, Milwaukee voters last November approved by a 69 percent margin a referendum establishing paid sick days for all workers in the city.
Voters took this step for a healthy city despite the incessant warnings of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce–the city’s main corporate lobbying force–that it would harm the city’s economic health. “This one-size-fits-all mandate is not only bad economic policy, it is also bad law,” stated MMAC President Tim Sheehy.
Even Mayor Tom Barrett, who had been a staunch liberal during his years in Congress, opposed the measure, saying Milwaukee could not afford to be “an island” imposing more stringent rules on business.
But voters have been hearing these threats of business relocation incessantly or the immediate and total collapse of the economy, for the past century. They have learned that no matter how much working people give up in terms of wages, business tax cuts, or other corporate demands, “It is never enough,” as one union leader declared from years of tragic experience.
Promoted actively at the grass-roots level by the 9 to 5 National Organization of Working Women, the measure would merely entitle all workers up to nine sick days, depending on the number of hours worked and size of the business.
Advocates of the paid sick days, like economists Marc Levin and Michael Rosen, countered that no such effects were found in San Francisco, one of the first cities to pass such a measure. Moreover, they pointed out, the need in Milwaukee is particularly “acute.”:
Once “the machine shop of the world,” Milwaukee’s deindustrialization has destroyed tens of thousands of high-waged, skilled, and unionized jobs and left behind an increasingly low-wage, non-union workforce in its place, One powerful index: where Milwaukee’s African American families earned 19 percent above the national black median income in 1970, by 2000 the figure had plummeted to 23 percent below, according to Richard C. Longworth in his book Caught In The Middle.
An astonishing 43 percent of Milwaukee workers earn under $20,000 a year. Nearly half–47 percent–are not entitled to sick days, Levin and Rosen pointed out.
The no-paid-sick-days approach creates an obvious risk to public health in a city that once led the nation in its far-reaching concern for the health of its citizens. Moreover, it leaves single mothers in the position of risking discharge if they miss work because they or their children are sick. Thus, some having an older child care stay home from school to care for their sick younger sibling.
In some inner-city districts, including that of the influential City Council President Willie Hines, the sick-days proposals passed by 90 percent.
But after the measure passed, MMAC filed a lawsuit and won a temporary injunction on technical grounds. The provision relating to victims of domestic violence was singled out by Judge Thomas Cooper as incongruent with the overall purpose of the ballot measure. He declared that “provisions regarding domestic violence and sexual assault are not rationally related to the ordinance’s overall objective of protecting the public welfare, health, safety and prosperity of the City, in order to ensure a decent and healthy life for the people of the City and their families.”
9 to 5 launched an appeal of Cooper’s ruling saying it failed to reflect the realities of life for battered women. Victims of domestic abuse need to take off from work “seeking shelter, obtaining a restraining order or working with police and judicial authorities. explain Peter and Jennifer Buffett of the NoVo Foundation. “These are preventative steps that protect victims’ health and welfare while affording them an opportunity to heal. Each of these measures requires time.”
Yet Barrett and City Council President Hines sided with MMAC, deciding to buy “MMAC’s arguments”: http://www.bizjournals.com/milwaukee/stories/2009/08/10/story3.html.
“Barrett and Hines had to choose between defending their voters or defending the MMAC.” declared 9 to 5 lead organizer Sangita Nayak. “And they’re simply giving in to MMAC.”
For Mayor Barrett and the key officials, the customary “the sky is falling” claims about the health of business are trumping the very real health needs of working families–and the vote of 69 percent of Milwaukee’s citizen