MADISON/EAU CLAIRE, (AP, WEAU) - Wisconsin manufacturing and retail workers could volunteer to work seven days straight without a day off under a bill two Republican lawmakers are circulating on behalf of the state's largest business group.
The bill promises to ratchet up tensions between the GOP and Democrats and their organized labor allies, who are still stinging after Republicans passed Gov. Scott Walker's plan to strip most public workers of nearly all their union rights in 2011.
The measure's authors, Sen. Glenn Grothman of West Bend and Mark Born of Beaver Dam, say the bill brings Wisconsin in line with federal law, gives workers a way to make extra money and employers a way to boost production. But Democrats and labor leaders insisted bosses would use the bill to force their employees to work longer and effectively erase the weekend.
"Even God said rest on the seventh day," said David Reardon, secretary-treasurer for Teamsters Local 662, a union that represents about 10,000 workers across various industries in west-central and east-central Wisconsin, including manufacturing, truck driving, public workers and food service workers. "I would hate to see that Republican bill pass. Some employers would really take advantage of that."
“Right now, employers can require mandatory overtime, as long as they're not requiring workers to work 7 consecutive days in a work week period,” Chippewa Valley Technical College Human Resources Program Instructor Tanya Hubanks said.
“You have to remember that the federal law, the fair labor standards act, does not have a protection of this sort, so (the current law) is clearly a state law. “
But that could change if the new bill passes.
“(It) gives employees who want to work more, make some additional dollars and overtime potentially, the opportunity to do so.”
“I think the idea behind the law is that it would be a voluntary … choice for the employee. And that's where there's some controversy, is this really truly going to be voluntary?”
“The question then becomes, will employers overstep their bounds? And I think that will depend upon organization to organization.”
Hubanks said the choices of employers could keep the bill from having a strong impact.
“Employers often times like to save in salary costs by not allowing overtime, so they may not be interested in offering that, because it could ultimately result in overtime if the shifts are long.”
“There might be some employers who say we don't want our employees to work seven days.”
“We'll have to see how it plays out in terms of whether it's going to be perceived as a positive or negative,” she said.
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. Under Grothman and Born's proposal, workers could volunteer to work seven straight days without a rest day.
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state's largest business organization, brought the idea to them, the two Republicans said. The organization was doing a study on discrepancies between federal and state law and discovered federal law imposes no such limits on consecutive work days as long as minimum wage and overtime payment requirements are met, Born said.
In an email to lawmakers seeking support for the bill, Born and Grothman said they had heard from businesses with employees who want to work the additional time. But when asked for names Born said the only people he met with to discuss the bill were from WMC.
"We should have worded that differently," Born said. Grothman said he has talked to a business but declined to name it.
WMC spokesman Jim Pugh didn't return messages.
Born said the bill gives workers a chance to make some extra dollars and their bosses a means to increase production.
"Here's an opportunity for folks to work together to get things done in a positive way for the employer and the employee," Born said. "It just seems like a win all the way around."
But opponents warned the only choice employees will have is work the extra hours or lose their jobs. The measure also would give workers who can work the extra day an advantage over workers who want to spend a day with their family, they said.
Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, called the legislation a "slap in the face to ordinary working folks in Wisconsin."
"Workers fought long and hard for a 40-hour work week and the weekend," Mason said. "People deserve at least a day off a week. It's a legal protection for a reason."
Grothman dismissed their concerns, saying he's never heard of any business where pressuring employees to work extra hours has been a problem. He, too, insisted the bill would help workers make extra cash.
"It's ridiculous when people want to work extra hours why Democrats would stand in the way of that," he said. "I don't know why some people want some people to remain poor."
The bill's prospects are unclear. Republicans control both houses of the Legislature but caucus leaders haven't committed any support for the measure and a Walker spokesman was noncommittal.