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Supporters Turn Out At Hearing For Expanded Family And Medical Leave

Business Groups Largely Oppose Plan To Provide More Paid Time Off

Steve Brown & John Verkleir (CC-BY)

A bill expanding Wisconsin’s Family and Medical Leave Act brought lots of supporters to a public hearing at the state Capitol on Tuesday, but business groups have largely come out against it.

Advocates say the state’s current law hasn’t kept up with the times. More women work and many of them are breadwinners. The changes outlined in the bill would provide paid leave in more situations and would apply to smaller companies — from 50 full-time workers currently, down to 25.

Ellen Bravo, who directs Family Values@Work Consortium, said the change improves Wisconsin’s family and medical leave policy.

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“There are many people who are excluded (from current state law) because of the size of the employer they work for or because they don’t work enough hours for the same employer,” Bravo said.

Supporters also argue the bill wouldn’t be a cost burden to companies because it would reduce turnover.

Workers would pay for their leave by contributing to a trust fund overseen by the state Department of Workforce Development. The bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. Janis Ringhand, said four other states — California, New Jersey, Rhode Island and Washington — have created insurance programs for family and medical leave.

Even so, major statewide business groups oppose the bill. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce registered its opposition but didn’t testify on Tuesday.

The Wisconsin chapter of National Federation of Independent Business also opposes the bill. State NFIB director Bill Smith said in a telephone interview after the hearing, “Generally, the small business community does not support government mandating benefits. It’s not because they are less compassionate with their employees. It’s because what small business owners need in their relationship with their workers is flexibility.”