If there was ever a national election where a Milwaukeean could safely skip voting – if it wasn’t for a sense of civic duty that is – it would seem to be this year.
Obama holds an insurmountable lead in the state, the House race is uncontested, and there are no local races of note. Rock the Vote slogans are all well and good, but in fact there is very little difference a Milwaukeean can make with their ballot.
That is, until you examine one of the referendums.
On the table is an ordinance requiring all employers in the City of Milwaukee to provide up to nine paid sick days per year to their employees.
I’ll admit it’s difficult to argue against the ‘Good Samaritan’ inertia behind the proposal. The advertising for it is full of imagery of mothers with their young children, sickly faces gazing at you with hopeful eyes. A vote against the ordinance, it is implied, is a vote against motherhood and children.
The government’s rationale for the law echoes this, with a ‘slippery slope’ argument spelled out in great detail. Through an elaborate Rube Goldberg like scenario, the lack of paid sick days means ‘the employee’s job productivity is likely to suffer’, ‘the health of the public [is jeopardized]’,’ ‘medical costs increase’, ‘hospitalization of patients . . sometimes becomes necessary, and ‘the family’s economic security [is] in jeopardy [thereby] increasing the likelihood that taxpayer-funded sources will have to be used to provide for the family’s needs’.
Thus, says the government, “to safeguard the public welfare, health, safety, and prosperity of Milwaukee” it is necessary to enact a paid sick leave ordinance.
I don’t where to begin.
For the sake of this argument I’ll gloss over the political implications that say this is an abuse of government power, the economic theories that look at it as an unwelcome intrusion into the marketplace, and the ethical ramifications of such a bold move towards socialism.
I agree with all of the above to some extent, but let’s be honest: the law appeals to the good in all of us and few will look beyond that to examine the issue. Debating philosophy is unlikely to change that. So instead, let’s talk about the holy grail of any election: the voter’s wallet.
I acknowledge the importance of paid sick time, both as a means of reducing time lost to illness and as a vital, morale boosting aspect of employment. I think any employer financially able to offer it gains a significant advantage in recruiting and retaining an employee. By all means, if you have the ability, put it on the table.
But note that I said ‘financially able’. Even in the best of times – and these are not the best of times – the majority of employers will be unable to adequately support the burden imposed by this law.
The law allows paid sick leave to be used after ninety days of employment, with one hour being accumulated for every thirty worked, with a cap of nine seventy-two sick hours, and forty for those described as employed by a small business.
The sick leave can be used for mental or physical illness, preventive care, or recovery from abuse or stalking. This applies to the employee, their spouse, child, parent, grandparent, or ‘extended family member’.
At no time may the employer require ‘unreasonable documentation of illness . . .’. Given that the ordinance later details confidentiality restrictions, it would seem that no explanation can reasonably be required by the employer.
Unlike the explanations for the law, no convoluted rationale is needed to argue against it. Taxpayers throughout the city will be forced to pay for the bureaucracy needed to implement the program. An employer, in a best case scenario, may lose an honest employee for up to five business days. During that time the small business owner, who may have only one or two employees on her payroll, will be forced to pay both for the time off and for the hours worked by their replacement.
You think that cost won't be passed on to the consumer? Think again.
Let’s be a little more blunt. The vast majority of sick days will be consumed as nothing more than ‘vacation days’. Why? Partially because it’s human nature, and partially because the law can make no distinction between the student working for beer money, who has no incentive to work, and a single Mom looking for every hour she can to make ends meet.
Add to all of the above the increase in administrative and legal costs for business. The ordinance requires documenting and storing data related to this law for a minimum of five years. . The law also takes care to ensure that people who, ‘in good faith’, make false allegations are protected from retaliation, which translates to a whole heap of retaliatory complaints by disgruntled employees and all the legal bills that go with it.
Payrolls will be cut. Businesses may be forced to close. New companies, if they were foolish enough to consider moving to Milwaukee in the first place, will never do so now.
High taxes, a diminishing population, a fractured education system spitting out unprepared applicants and well-meaning but paralyzing laws? That’s not a recipe for success; not for the city, not for business, and not for the hard working people of Milwaukee who will be victimized by the very law intended to help them.
On November 4th, vote ‘no’ on the paid sick leave referendum.