Milwaukee Business Group to Battle Sick Leave Mandate

November 10, 2008 ( - A Milwaukee business group has announced it will wage a legal challenge to throw out a newly adopted city ordinance mandating employers in the city provide employee sick leave.

A news report in theMilwaukee Journal Sentinel said the vow of a lawsuit came from the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

Some 68% of Milwaukee’s voters last week approved the referendum imposing the sick leave mandate, the newspaper said.

The ordinance is supposed to be published within 10 days of the election and take effect 90 days after that.

The new law requires private employers to provide paid sick leave to workers who earn the benefit at the rate of one hour of sick pay for every 30 hours of work. Employers would have to grant 72 hours of sick leave per calendar year or 40 hours if they have fewer than 10 employees, the newspaper said.

The MMAC asserts that the sick leave ordinance conflicts with federal and state laws for family and medical leaves. It also contends the city would be overstepping its authority by requiring sick pay from employers outside the city that have employees living in Milwaukee.

Amy Stear, state director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, which led a coalition for the ordinance, denounced MMAC's action.

"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."

However, even some employers who agree in principle with sick pay quarrel with the ordinance. Pam Mehnert, general manager of Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative, had publicly supported the referendum before she read the details.

Mehnert told the newspaper that Outpost's 325 employees, including union members, receive paid time off in addition to vacation. But she determined that the ordinance would require three more sick days per year for full-time workers, exceeding $100,000 in extra paid time off.

Several national business groups filed friend of the court briefs in support of a San Francisco trade organization that is continuing to fight a health coverage mandate in that city. The San Francisco organization and the trade groups have asked a federal appellate court to reconsider its recent ruling backing the mandate (see Industry Groups Also Ask for 9th Circuit Rehearing of San Francisco Health Care Law ).