Committee holds hearing on 7-day work week

The Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison is seen, Jan. 14, 2014.
The Wisconsin state Capitol in Madison is seen, Jan. 14, 2014.

MADISON - Wisconsin's largest business association and some Republican lawmakers want to streamline the process for factory and retail workers to work seven days a week.

Union leaders think a change could roll back worker rights.

These arguments were presented Thursday afternoon in front of a Senate committee in Madison.

State Sen. Glenn Grothman, R-West Bend, believes anyone working in manufacturing or retail should be able to work every day of the week.

Under current law, employees can only do that after filling out a waiver.

"I think it is strange that anybody would say it should be against the law to have somebody work seven days a week if they want to," said Grothman.

He wrote a bill that would eliminate a law that requires employers who own or operate factories or retail stores to give their workers at least 24 consecutive hours off every seven days.

Opponents say if the law goes away, employers could then force people to work extra.

Tom Millonzi, of the Wisconsin Teamsters Joint Council 39, says workers can already file paperwork with the state to waive the current law and work a seventh-day each week.

He wants lawmakers to keep the law the way it is.

"I believe the state statute as written is to protect the workers that do not want to work that seventh day," said Millonzi.

The bill was suggested by the state's largest business group - Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Chris Reader, the director of Health and Human Resources policy for WMC, says the new legislation would eliminate the need for the waiver process.

Reader says that would allow companies to respond quickly to sudden rises in production, but no one would be forced into working.

"None of that changes under this bill," said Reader. "The volunteer portion is exactly the same once this bill passes as it is now. No worker is required to work seven straight days in a week."

Opponents say the bill would eliminate the weekend, but Grothman thinks many people already are working seven days a week, just at two different jobs.

"That's what people do in today's world and we shouldn't bother them from doing it if it happens to be for the same employer," he said.

A seven-day work week is legal under federal law.

Before the bill could head to the Senate floor, it has to be approved by the committee that heard Thursday's testimony. Grothman, who chairs the committee, expects the group will take a vote on the bill in a couple of weeks.

The Republican leaders of the Senate and Assembly haven't yet made any comments on the bill and its chances for success in the legislature.