‘Escape from Milwaukee’

    In the 1981 sci-fi/action film "Escape from New York," ex-soldier turned criminal turned hero, Snake Plissken, must save the President of the United States to earn his release from Manhattan, which had been turned into a maximum security prison.

    Snake has 24 hours to complete his mission or face certain death. With the paid sick day law voted in on Nov. 4, most business owners in the City of Milwaukee woke up the next morning feeling like they were in a horror movie of their own.

    One business owner reported he couldn’t sleep for three days after the mandate was inflicted on his business. Seems he just moved into a new building he recently purchased in Milwaukee. He knew the value of his property had just taken a significant hit. Who would want to buy his building, when the time came, vs. moving up the road to a non-mandate city? Did his property value decline 10 percent? Maybe 20 percent? More?

    Then, there is the well-publicized case of the president of a manufacturing company located on 27th and North earning a nice piece of new business that would support six new jobs. The new jobs will go to their sister company in Hartford rather than the inner city. The next time Mayor Tom Barrett bleats about "jobs, jobs, jobs" in Milwaukee, someone needs to ask him how he allowed this job killer to happen on his watch.

    The cynics among us actually would like to ask where was the mayor during the "grassroots" drive to collect signatures to get this destructive piece of legislation on the ballot in the first place.

    These people were working the crowd for two years leading up to the vote! The mayor must have known they were here, yet did nothing effective until the end, when his campaign contributors/supporters apparently allowed him political cover to come out against the mandate – when it was too late to do anything about it.

    What could the mayor had done about it? The Common Council had some options when its members were presented with the 42,000 signatures. They could have voted it into law right then. They could have put it on the ballot sighting the "direct legislation" method preferred by the community organizers. Or, they could have passed a watered down version of the measure that may have covered some big employers in the city, exempting small businesses and those that employ large numbers of part-time workers. It should have exempted existing labor agreements, as well.  The mayor should have leaned on the members of the Common Council to pass a minimally damaging, watered down version of the mandate. Leaned real hard, if necessary.

    Similarly, the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC) waited until it was too late to make a difference, even referring to the "good intentions" of the community organizers.  Relying on polling of Milwaukee voters after the 42,000 signatures had been collected, they knew the measure for free paid days off was going to pass.

    Again, the 9to5 people were slithering around the city for two years prior to the vote.  The MMAC lawsuit makes it look like they are doing something. Unfortunately, the horses have departed the stable.
    Now what?  The lawyers are already lining up to get their fair share of the windfall.  After all, the ordinance requires the employer to pay the employee’s legal fees as a penalty for non-compliance. 

    And the city is moving right ahead with steps to put the ordinance in place. City Hall is firing up the Equal Rights Commission which had been defunct since 2003 to enforce the law and determine what penalties to inflict on unscrupulous business owners who attempt to weasel out of compliance with the law.

    Here is a suggestion for all the lawyers lined up and ready to pounce on those law-breaking business owners: Why not have the Equal Rights Commission require that the lawyers who make money harassing business owners in Milwaukee have their office in the city, live in the city and have dinner at a city of Milwaukee restaurant three nights a week? The last piece of this "regulation" would mitigate some of the damage done to restaurant owners who must now deal with the vagaries of paid sick days for their part-time workers.

    It would also be a good idea to change the law that allowed this to happen, before it happens again.  This was democracy in action.  The reality is we are a republic, which, in part, means that the rights of the minority are supposed to be protected from the whim of the majority. Fix the law now to reflect these protections.

    Snake Plissken did save the President and his own life in the process. He did escape from New York. He didn’t make a lot of new friends along the way. Perhaps the paid sick days mandate will be the wake-up call to the too cozy business community. We have been living with weak leadership and bad ideas for too long. For most of us, "Escape from Milwaukee" is not a viable option.

    Dennis Ellmaurer is a principal of Globe National Corp., a Milwaukee firm working exclusively with sellers of small businesses in southeastern Wisconsin. Ellmaurer also is a chairman of The Executive Committee (TEC), facilitating three CEO groups in southeastern Wisconsin.

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