In the pilot episode of “Downton Abbey,” a character made a passing reference to the free time he’ll have away from the office on weekends. Maggie Smith’s character, apparently confused, asked, “What is a weekend?”
The episode took place in 1912. The labor movement had not yet secured many victories and the idea of employees having time off at the end of a work week was still, for some, bizarre.
Over a century later, some Wisconsin Republicans are willing to turn back the clock. The Capital Times in Madison reported today on the spirited debate over a controversial provision in the GOP budget.
Sen. Chris Larson, D-Milwaukee, introduced an amendment to delete a budget provision that would allow factory and mercantile workers to voluntarily work seven days in a row with no 24-hour rest period. The provision is modeled after legislation proposed by Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, and Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, in March.“Really, you’re going to go after the weekend? Really? You’re going to side with Lumbergh?” Larson asked, referencing the boss from “Office Space” who repeatedly asked his employees to work on weekends.Sens. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Julie Lassa, D-Stevens Point, voiced concerns that employers would pressure their employees to “volunteer” for weekend shifts under the new provision.
A few months ago, The Nation ran a report on Wisconsin Republicans targeting weekends, and at the time, I more or less assumed the idea was too ridiculous to advance.
But it’s apparently still under serious consideration.
Under existing state law, Wisconsin workers employed in a “factory or mercantile establishment” must receive “at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every 7 consecutive days.”
The Republican proposal currently on the table would change the status quo – if a factory or mercantile worker “volunteers” to stay on the job for seven consecutive days, that would be perfectly legal under Wisconsin labor laws.
The problem, of course, as Democratic lawmakers have pointed out, is that once weekend-free schedules are permissible, employers will very likely “strongly encourage” factory and mercantile workers to forgo time off altogether.
As Marquette University law professor Paul Secunda told The Nation, the idea “completely ignores the power dynamic in the workplace, where workers often have a proverbial gun to the head.” The article added that Wisconsin passed a “day of rest” law in the first place because employers had been abusing employees by pressing them to work too many days without break.
“Now this bill will force many workers to strike a bargain with the devil,” Secunda added.
It is not yet a done deal, and all kinds of provisions in the Wisconsin budget are still very much in flux. But as the process continues, it’s worth watching to see if the “war on weekends” is successful.