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Wisconsin may eliminate ban on 7-day work weeks

Current Wisconsin law bans employers from having employees work seven days straight, but the state's business lobby is working to change that.
An employee guides a stack of cut paper as it is unloaded from a cutting machine at a paper mill in Rothschild, Wisconsin, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.
An employee guides a stack of cut paper as it is unloaded from a cutting machine at a paper mill in Rothschild, Wisconsin, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2012.

Current Wisconsin law requires employers to give their workers at least one day off for every week on the job, but a new law being proposed in the state assembly could change that. Two state politicians working with the local business lobby have introduced legislation that would allow employees in the manufacturing and service sectors to work for a week or more without any mandated breaks.

One of the bill's sponsors, Republican state representative Mark Born, said the bill was intended only to allow workers the option of volunteering for additional work.

"Let's allow businesses and employees to work together, and if there's extra work that needs to be done, give the option to the employee to come in," he told msnbc.

Most states don't have mandated rest days like the one in Wisconsin, said Born, and some businesses have already had the requirement waived. But to Wisconsin labor unions and other opponents of the bill, the current law is a crucial safeguard against workplace abuse. If employees are given the "option" to work more, it ultimately won't be up to them, said National Employment Law Project's Catherine Ruckelshaus.

"'Voluntary' typically doesn't mean that the worker has any choice in the matter," she said. "It generally means, if you want to keep your job or have a job, you have to take what the employer is describing."

"There has not been some sort of outcry from small business and employees asking for this protection to be removed," said Mike Browne, deputy director for the progressive group One Wisconsin Now. Instead, the law was originally proposed by the powerful industry lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC). Rep. Born confirmed to msnbc that he began working on the legislation after he was approached by WMC.

"They've had a tradition of being very successful in influencing Republican politicians or conservative politicians to vote with their interests," said Browne.

A WMC spokesperson did not return a request for comment.

Republican state senator Glenn Grothman, who sponsored the legislation along with Born, has also co-sponsored a law that would allow employers to provide comp time in lieu of overtime pay "if such an arrangement is authorized by a collective bargaining agreement or other agreement arrived at before the work is performed." Republicans on the federal level proposed a similar measure last spring, but critics of the legislation argued that it would put too much power in the hands of the boss.

“It’s the employer that gets to decide when and under what circumstances you can take this comp time,” National Partnership for Women and Families senior adviser Judith Lichtman told msnbc at the time, an argument that would be echoed by opponents of the seven-day work week bill.

“Even God said rest on the seventh day,” David Reader, secretary-treasurer for the union Teamsters Local 662, told Wisconsin's Stevens Point Journal. "I would hate to see that Republican bill pass. Some employers would really take advantage of that."