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Milwaukee Voters Approve Law Requiring Paid Sick Leave

November 6, 2008
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Milwaukee became the third city in the U.S. to guarantee paid sick days for workers after voters overwhelmingly passed a referendum on the issue Tuesday, November 4.

Despite opposition from the city’s mayor and business community, 68 percent of voters approved the ordinance. The law will require employers within the city to provide each employee up to nine days of paid sick leave per year—or one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked.

Small employers with fewer than 10 employees would be required to provide up to five days of paid sick leave per year.

The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, a business group opposed to the mandate, said it intended to fight the outcome of the referendum in court, said spokeswoman Julie Granger.

San Francisco became the first U.S. city to pass such a measure
when it enacted a law last year requiring employers to provide seven sick days a year to employees. Washington, D.C., followed suit in February when its City Council voted to approve a mandated sick leave policy providing seven days of sick leave for workers at large employers; workers for small employers receive five days off.

Supporters of the new law, including unions and advocacy groups such as the National Partnership for Women and Families in Washington, said they expected other cities to adopt similar laws.

States, however, have had a harder time mandating sick leave. At least 11 states have considered laws requiring paid sick leave, but none has passed. A referendum on paid sick leave in Ohio was pulled from the November 4 ballot after it became clear that passing it would be divisive and costly.

It was not immediately clear whether opponents of the Milwaukee law planned to mount a legal challenge.

President-elect Barack Obama voiced support for paid sick leave when he said at the Democratic National Convention in August that the measure of a strong economy was “whether the waitress who lives on tips can take a day off to look after a sick kid without losing her job—an economy that honors the dignity of work.”

—Jeremy Smerd

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