Thursday, May 7, 2009

Kids Criticize Barrett's Paid Sick Days Opposition

By Lisa Kaiser
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If Mayor Tom Barrett had been at City Hall on Wednesday afternoon, he would have gotten an earful.

A crowd organized by the working women’s organization 9to5 gathered to call out the mayor for his opposition to the paid sick days referendum, which passed with almost 70% of the vote in November 2008.

The kids in the crowd delivered boxes of letters to the mayor’s office and told his aide about the importance of having a parent tend to them when they’re sick. One said he was forced to stay at home alone because his mom couldn’t afford to take time off of work to care for him. Others said they simply want to be with their mom when they’re sick.

The adults in the crowd didn’t have many kind words for Barrett, who has sided with the conservative business organization Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) in opposing the paid sick days ordinance. (MMAC’s Steve Baas had the arrogance to call the landslide vote “a sort of terrorism.”) Once again, MMAC is supporting the worst business practices in the city and working against the wishes of 157,000 city residents who supported the referendum. The organization has said that the majority of its members provide paid sick days. So MMAC's stance is even more unfair to these responsible employers, who are doing the right thing, even if that means incurring more costs.

MMAC has sued and won a temporary injunction in court, so the ordinance hasn’t been implemented. That case will be heard in state court on Monday. Since Barrett opposes the ordinance, the city attorney, Grant Langley, will likely offer a weak representation of the will of the city’s voters—although I’d love to be proven wrong on this one.

Amy Stear, the Wisconsin director of 9to5, said the recent swine flu-related school closures show just how important paid sick days are to preventing widespread sickness in the city. Roughly 16,000 kids were told to stay home, thanks to school closures. It’s highly unlikely that the parents of all of those students have paid sick days.

Along with the students in closed schools, health officials and Barrett asked those who felt ill or had a sick child to stay home—sort of difficult when you have to lose a couple of days of pay, no?

“Last week our mayor encouraged businesses to follow the spirit of the law passed in the fall while dealing with the potential crisis of the swine flu outbreak in the city,” Stear said. “We commend the mayor for recognizing that the paid sick days ordinance is an effective tool in fighting a potential epidemic.

“We now call on Mayor Barrett and the city attorney to join us in demanding that MMAC stop its bid to hold the will of the voters hostage and drop its legal challenge to our democratic decision to ensure that no one would ever have to choose between preventing a pandemic and their paycheck. We ask the mayor and the city attorney to vigorously defend the law in court this Monday.”

Peter Blewett, VP of the MPS board of directors, said the board supported the paid sick days ordinance long before the city’s voters did, because MPS sees the consequences of sick kids and un-family-friendly employers. Kids either come to school sick, stay home alone or with an older sibling, or a parent loses a day of pay or puts his or her job in jeopardy.

“The people overwhelmingly passed this referendum because they understand what it means to the health of the whole city,” Blewett said. “Why doesn’t the city get it? Why doesn’t the mayor get it? Why doesn’t the association of commerce get it? The MMAC has been running this city for too long.”

In case you missed yesterday’s Children’s March, you can still send a message to MMAC, thanks to One Wisconsin Now.

(Photo courtesy of 9to5)

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