Wis. Republican pushes panel to OK work week bill

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) - A Republican legislator tried to convince the state Senate’s labor committee Thursday to approve his bill allowing factory and retail employees to work longer weeks despite concerns the measure would lead to bosses intimidating workers into giving up their weekends.

Current Wisconsin law requires employers who own or operate factories or retail stores to give their workers at least 24 consecutive hours off every seven days. Employers and unions can seek waivers from the state allowing workers to go without an off day if the workers choose to do so. Employees in other industries face no such time restrictions.

Under Sen. Glenn Grothman and Rep. Mark Born’s proposal, retail and factory workers could volunteer to work seven straight days without a day off.

Grothman, R-West Bend, and Born, R-Beaver Dam, maintain the measure would bring Wisconsin in line with federal law, give workers a way to collect overtime and boost production. They developed the bill with help from Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group.

Grothman is the labor committee’s chairman. He set up the public hearing and kicked off the testimony himself, saying people already are working two or three different jobs to get enough hours and he cannot imagine why anyone would object to the plan.

“You’ll find thousands of people today who work seven days a week,” he said. “We shouldn’t bar them from doing it if it’s with the same employer. … I think it’s just plain wrong for the state of Wisconsin or individuals to impose their beliefs on people and say it’s against the law to work seven days.”

Chris Reader, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s director of health and human resources policy, backed Grothman up. He told the committee that people already can work 12 days straight if their off days are Sundays. The bill simply removes the waiver request step, he said, noting the state Department of Workforce Development approved all 169 waiver requests it received last year.

“This bill really is more of a paperwork bill than changing what happens in reality,” Reader said. “No worker is required to take seven straight days in a week.”

Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, insisted the measure would open the door to bosses pressuring workers into putting in extra time.

“It’s beautiful on paper,” Risser said. “But in the real world, aren’t you subjecting employees to possible intimidation by employers?”

Tom Millonzi, secretary-treasurer of Teamsters Local Union 200, urged the committee to leave current law alone. Workers who want more hours already can sign a waiver, he said. After the hearing he told reporters the bill clearly would lead to more pressure on employees to work longer.

“People are afraid they’re going to lose their job for any reason,” he said. “This just adds another one.”

Grothman said in his 20 years in the Legislature he has never had anyone from his district complain about being forced to work overtime. Reader said last year the Department of Workforce Development received only eight complaints alleging a violation of the seven-day work rule and nothing in the bill would stop an employee from filing such complaints.

A Department of Workforce Development spokesman confirmed Reader’s waiver request and complaint statistics.

The hearing lasted less than an hour. Afterward, Grothman said he hopes to schedule a committee vote within the next two weeks.

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