7-day work week measure in budget: More freedom for employees, or does it weaken workers' rights?

MADISON -- Will it allow employees to work the hours they want -- or is it an effort to weaken workers' rights? Senate Democrats failed to remove a provision in the state budget that would allow workers to voluntarily agree to work seven-days a week without a day off. Republicans on Tuesday, July 7th voted down a Democratic attempt to remove the change from the two-year state budget. It had been added last week in the budget committee.

Under current state law, employers who own factories and retail stores must allow their workers at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every seven consecutive days. The requirement doesn't apply to janitors, security guards, bakeries, restaurants, hotels and certain dairy and agricultural plants.

This is widely viewed as a workers' rights law.

"Intended to be pro-labor legislation so that employers couldn't force somebody to work seven days a week," UW-Milwaukee Professor Mordecai Lee said.

The new proposal would do away with the law -- allowing employees to choose to work more days in a row without the break.

"Very, very bad policy-wise for Wisconsin working people," Stephanie Bloomingdale with the Wisconsin AFL-CIO said.

Bloomingdale says this proposal is an attempt to strong-arm employees into working more hours.

"This is coercive. If the boss says to an employee 'we need you to work this seventh day,' most likely the employee is going to say okay," Bloomingdale said.

As Mordecai Lee points out, we don't know who authored this proposal.

"Here is an example of a law that didn't come from Governor Walker. And so it slipped into the budget by somebody unnamed," Lee said.

Unnamed because it was part of a long list of changes adopted by the Joint Finance Committee last week. The majority party (in this case, Republicans) is allowed to add the changes.

"Whether we are talking about the Republicans or the Democrats, they put in a kind of miscellaneous amendment at the end where everything is grouped together without any individual authorship. It's just a grab-bag of ideas. It's a kind of Christmas tree to the majority party to itself," Lee said.

If the provision remains in the budget and makes it to Governor Walker's desk, Walker could line-item veto the measure, but he's not expected to.

Union leaders point out the Department of Workforce Development already allows employees who want to opt out of the one-day rest law.