Senior Vice President, Employment Policy Division, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
February 02, 2018
In Wisconsin, the economy has come a long way since the recession of 2009-2010. Unemployment has fallen from over 9 percent to less than 4 percent, the state’s economy is among the nation’s strongest performers, and there have been more than 200,000 jobs created. Of course, there’s always room for improvement, and one thing that can be done is to ensure that being an employer in Milwaukee means the same thing as it does in Green Bay. Likewise, the rules for a small business in Eau Claire shouldn’t change if it moves, or opens a new location in Beloit.
This is a pretty simple concept, but this logic is being challenged all over the country by local governments that insist on passing their own labor and employment mandates. Often pursued by self-anointed “worker advocates,” these disruptive ordinances can cover a range of issues. To its credit, Wisconsin has already passed a law preempting local minimum wage and paid leave policies, clarifying that these issues are a matter of statewide concern. But a number of other policies emerging around the country could create a confusing patchwork of local employment regulations for Wisconsin’s small businesses.
Fortunately, common-sense legislation has been introduced in the Wisconsin State Legislature by Senator Chris Kapenga and Representative Rob Hutton to head off this problem. SB 634 and AB 748 would preempt local employment regulation in a number of areas.
First, the bill would prevent the adoption of so-called labor peace ordinances. These typically come about when a local government asserts a “proprietary interest” over a local business, either because it has an ownership stake in a facility like an airport, or because it has offered financial assistance to a development project, such as a hotel or convention center. The government body then demands that, in order to protect its financial interest, employers doing business at the facility or project sign labor peace agreements with any union that requests one. If the business can’t get a union to sign, well, then they will no longer be doing business in that facility or on that project.
This gives unions tremendous leverage to demand all sorts of organizing concessions such as card check, where workers lose the right to vote for or against a union in a secret ballot election, and neutrality, where an employer must surrender its right to talk to employees about union issues. These one-sided labor peace ordinances have popped up all over the country, but SB 634 and AB 748 would ensure that workers and employers won’t have their rights under the National Labor Relations Act infringed by local governments in Wisconsin.
Another provision of the bill deals with occupational licensing. Put simply, it makes clear that standards should be uniform across the state. After all, if you are licensed to perform a job in Madison, your certification shouldn’t be stripped away if you move a few miles up the interstate.
SB 634 and AB 748 also clarify that overtime laws should not vary from town to town. After the Obama-era overtime regulations, which would have dramatically raised costs on employers, were struck down as unlawful by a federal judge, activists around the country pledged to resurrect them at the state and local level. SB 634 and AB 748 state that this issue is a matter of statewide concern. This same principle is applied to additional workplace benefits such as retirement, profit sharing, leave or insurance. The law specifies that the intention of the legislature has been to allow “each employer to determine the employment benefits the employer provides to its employees.”
Finally, SB 634 and AB 748 ensure that employers across the state may enquire about an applicant’s salary history. Around the country, laws have been passed prohibiting employers from obtaining this information during the hiring process. Unfortunately, this deprives employers of an important piece of information about the quality of applicants, and may prevent skilled workers from getting the consideration they deserve when applying for a job.
Consistent regulatory policies are an important component of economic growth. SB 634 and AB 748 will ensure an even playing field across Wisconsin, and help protect Wisconsin’s well-earned reputation as a great place to work, live, and start a business.
About the authors
Spencer oversees the Chamber’s work on immigration, retirement security, traditional labor relations, human trafficking, wage hour and worker safety issues, EEOC matters, and state labor and employment law.