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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Anti-Business MMAC

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It's probably fair to say most of us have never worked for a company that didn't provide any paid sick leave.

It's one of those taken-for-granted benefits originally achieved through union collective bargaining that has become so commonplace that all decent companies provide it, whether they are unionized or not.

That's why it is so bizarre the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) continues to fight the sick leave law passed in Milwaukee after an overwhelming 69% of voters approved it in a binding referendum.

This year, of course, the MMAC, Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature justify allowing businesses to deny sick leave with the same cliché du jour they use to justify every other horror they're unleashing upon Wisconsin citizens. It would be job killing, the MMAC and Republicans chorus, to require employers to provide paid sick leave. It will drive business out of the state at a time the governor has vowed to create 250,000 new jobs.

Let me repeat, most of us have never worked for a company that doesn't provide paid sick leave.

You know what's job killing? Destroying more than half a century of union bargaining rights in Wisconsin so workers no longer have any voice to argue for fair wages, hours or working conditions.

How about cutting nearly a billion dollars out of public education so thousands of teachers all over the state will lose their jobs? Or cutting hundreds of millions in aid to local governments while forbidding local officials from raising property taxes, leaving local officials no choice but to fire thousands more?

That's some serious job killing.

At a time when every action taken by Wisconsin's radical new right-wing governor has been to destroy jobs, the state's leading lobbyists for business should be joining the fight against Walker instead of egging him on.

Talgo, the Spanish train-building company lured to Milwaukee's economically depressed North Side by the MMAC and city officials, watched in disbelief as the MMAC immediately sold out the company, siding with Walker's ignorant decision to turn down an $810 million job-creation windfall in federal funds for train expansion in Wisconsin.

Apparently, saving or creating jobs in Wisconsin is no longer the MMAC's first priority. Supporting Walker's right-wing ideology is.

Decent Businesses at Competitive Disadvantage

The fight against Milwaukee's sick leave ordinance was the beginning of the MMAC's new anti-business agenda.

As we've noted, most respected members of the MMAC already provide paid sick leave to their employees. Why should decent employers be at a competitive business disadvantage against indecent ones?

Why shouldn't a professional business association serve the interests of the area's vast majority of employers with high standards instead of those of the worst employers with no standards at all?

Employers don't provide basic health benefits, including sick leave, because they are good guys. They do it because it's good business.

Well-run companies provide benefits to attract and retain good employees. Businesses without sick leave have higher absenteeism and turnover. High turnover means higher costs for constant recruiting and training of employees.

What's really shocking is the primary industry that does not provide paid sick leave. It's an issue raising concerns not only about the health of Wisconsin businesses, but the health of us all. Seven out of eight food service workers in the United States do not receive any paid sick leave. And, apparently, the MMAC wants to keep it that way.

It's literally sick that the food business depends so heavily on low-wage employees who do not receive health benefits or sick leave.

Because they earn so little, food service employees are under tremendous pressure to show up for work when they are sick. It can determine whether they feed their families that week. That spreads illnesses to other food workers, increasing the danger to the public health.

When such an outbreak reaches its inevitable conclusion—and it keeps happening in this country—the result can be fatal to the innocent as well as businesses.

Talk about killing jobs. Some enormously successful restaurant chains no longer exist in this country because of disastrous publicity about deaths caused by food-borne illnesses.

Now that the courts have upheld the sick pay ordinance—despite Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice David Prosser voting against the public interest, as usual—the MMAC has gone to Republicans in the Legislature to sell out good employers and to stop bad employers from being required to do the right thing.

There's little doubt the MMAC will get its way there. Republican legislators don't believe government should ever tell private businesses what to do.

But rolling back ground rules agreed upon for decades regarding collective bargaining, child labor, minimum wage, workplace health and safety and clean air and water standards does nothing to promote a healthy business environment.

It creates an extremely unhealthy one.