Could This Legislation Take Away Your Weekend?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

The last vestige of the working man: the weekend. For many Americans populating the working class, although not all, Saturdays and Sundays are a time for taking the kids to soccer games, watching football games, or simply kicking back and recharging the batteries.

In fact, a metaphorical recharge of the batteries is what that time off was originally intended for. But there are some disturbing rumblings coming from Republican lawmakers in the freshly minted right-to-work state of Wisconsin, and it concerns those two days off a week that so many people cherish.

For workers in Wisconsin, their own personal version of Bill Lumbergh (the manager from the film Office Space), is taking the form of proposed legislation that will purge the state’s books of a labor law requiring 24 consecutive hours of rest in every seven consecutive days for workers. The news, which is explored in a recent article from The Nation, comes hot on the heels of governor Scott Walker’s signing of legislation that made Wisconsin the country’s 24th right-to-work state, meaning that certain agreements between workers and unions have been abolished. As many are aware, Walker has gone after unions and workers’ rights groups particularly hard, so it may not come as much of a surprise that this new “weekend-nullifying” legislation has popped up.

To get into the specifics, the legislation being proposed by two state Republican lawmakers would add language that could nullify the “day of rest” provision by allowing workers to file a waiver to voluntarily work through the mandated time off. “Voluntarily” is the key term here. The fear, you could say, is that employers can and will coerce workers into filing such waivers, under threat of firing or retribution. That’s a simplification, but also the gist of the situation unfolding in the Badger State.

The big question, of course, is why would legislators think that this is a good idea? And who, if anyone, would benefit from it?

The answer, as you may have guessed, are the state’s employers. Of course, not all employers would want their employees to work every day without a break (even managers get sick of seeing the same faces day after day, right?), and abusing a waiver system would probably lead to more problems than would be worth it. Employees can get burnt out and quit, which would actually end up costing businesses more in the long run through additional turnover expenses, not to mention overtime pay.

But those concerns haven’t stopped legislators from plowing ahead. In fact, this isn’t the first time such rules have been proposed. The Nation says that last year a similar bill was put forward, but time ran out before lawmakers could put it to vote.

What is obvious, though, is that Wisconsin has taken a rather sharp turn toward instigating very big business-friendly policies, and a lot of that has come as a result of Governor Scott Walker’s election in 2010. Mike Browne of One Group Wisconsin, a local progressive group, says that Walker’s agenda is pretty transparent. “After rushing to pass a wrong-for-Wisconsin right-to-work law that could lower family wages by over $5,000 a year it makes sense Republicans would introduce a law to repeal the weekend,” he told The Nation. “After all, with lower wages workers will see they’re going to have to work that much more to try to get ahead.”

So, while Wisconsin workers need to wait and see if legislators are successful in potentially ruining their weekends, the rest of us can sit back and wonder what will happen if the same idea spreads to other states. It most certainly could, but it’s still unclear if Wisconsinites will sit idly by while the new rules are implemented.

Also, Wisconsin’s idea is rather interesting considering that many business leaders and political figures are supporting exactly the opposite: shortening the workweek. We’ve covered this issue before, and in contrast to what is going on in Wisconsin, entrepreneurs from Silicon Valley, and even some of the world’s richest people are advocating for four- or even three-day work weeks. So why would legislators want people working six or even seven?

The short and simple of it is that it will benefit businesses — in the short term. Whether they get this legislation passed is another issue, but it could have a big effect on the national stage if it does.

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