MacIver News Service
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON, Wis. – The Senate’s Labor Committee heard testimony Wednesday on a bill aimed at ending the “patchwork” of employment laws across the state.
Proponents of Senate Bill 634 say the legislation requires certain employment regulations be governed by uniform statewide policy, not created through the whims of local governments.
Democrats, unions, community organizers and other opponents claim the bill is an assault on Wisconsin’s tradition of home rule and warn the proposal will set the clock back on labor relations and civil rights.
Of course, these are the same liberals that have often eschewed the rights of states and communities to govern their own affairs on a host policy matters – from education to welfare programs – in favor of federal mandates.
The bill, authored by Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield) and Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), prohibits local government from regulating policy on employee hours and overtime, employment benefits, and wage claims and collections. Employers would be able to ask prospective employees about salary information under the bill, and local governments couldn’t create employment discrimination regulations stricter than state laws.
In short, local governments would be prohibited from implementing employment law different from state regulations.
That means no separate higher minimum wage than that state’s, no forced “labor peace” agreements as a condition of landing taxpayer-funded projects, and no more cities telling restaurant owners how and when to schedule their workers.
Above all, the legislation is about uniformity, consistency, and predictability, its authors say. It would be a huge victory for red tape-cutting warriors.
“We shouldn’t have 1,924 definitions of overtime (in Wisconsin). We shouldn’t have 1,924 definitions of discrimination,” Scott Manley, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Senior Vice President of Government Relations, told the committee Wednesday during a lengthy legislative hearing. “Having fair, consistent, predictable and uniform employment regulations is an important factor in the competitiveness of Wisconsin businesses.”
But opponents, including committee member Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Kenosha), say the bill is just more meddling by the majority party.
“This bill is one more example of big government Republicans who think they know better than duly elected local officials,” Wirch said.
Stephanie Bloomingdale of the Wisconsin state AFL-CIO declared that U.S. democracy was “founded on the principle of federalism.” Big Labor has, however, been very much anti-federalism, very much enamored of centralized power when it has benefited union interests.
Many of the bill’s critics decried what they see as the social ramifications of uniformity in state employment policy.
“Living wage ordinances would be largely repealed under this bill,” said Mike Murray, policy director for the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health. “Many of the workers who are currently covered by such policies are in traditionally low-wage occupations that are disproportionately filled by women.”
What the advocates for such local government mandates don’t talk about is that forced wage and benefits policies have been shown to cost jobs and competition, ultimately costing taxpayers much more.
As is often the case, there is a disconnect between the reality of the free market and those who want to restrict it.
Representatives from the Wisconsin Restaurant Association addressed their concerns about local governments enacting regulations like employee scheduling mandates that will tie their hands and further cut into their razor-thin profit margins.
Companies that do business in different parts of the state are subject to changing employment regulations, unnecessarily adding to already hefty compliance costs, proponents of the bill say. Manley pointed to a study by the National Association of Manufacturers that found employers spent nearly $10,000 per employee on federal regulations in 2014. He said the patchwork of local government regulations is only adding to this enormous burden.
“We don’t believe businesses should have to guess what employment laws apply based on where they’re doing business in this state,” Manley said.
While opponents of the bill warn that Wisconsin runs the risk of losing litigation should the state enact such home rule preemption measures, Manley said Wisconsin courts have consistently found home rule does not extend to matters of statewide concern.
He said the bill would end codified discrimination by some municipalities in the state. It prohibits local governments from conditioning approval of permits, zoning, and other government petitions by requiring an applicant to waive his rights under state or federal labor laws.
“This is unfair, and must stop,” Manley said. “No one would argue that workers should be forced to give up their state or federal labor rights as a condition of receiving state or local licenses and/or permits. By the same reasoning, it is patently unfair to require employers to give up their labor rights in order to obtain state or local permits.”
Norman Davis, director of Madison’s Department of Civil Rights, said he was extremely “grieved and disappointed in this legislation going forward on the eve of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in Wisconsin.” He asserts the bill would “roll back civil rights in Wisconsin for a period of decades.”
Madison, the bastion of liberal thought and policy, has some of the most expansive and stringent anti-discrimination ordinances in the country, going well beyond state and federal laws.
Alyssa Riphon, investigator with the Civil Rights Department, raised a personal concern.
“I won’t have a job, nor will the people in my division” if the law passes, the bureaucrat said. “Think about that.”