GOP-Controlled Legislature Protects Companies that Don’t Pay Their Workers

September 16, 2019

Democratic measures that would sharply increase penalties against employers who fail to pay their workers have seen no action in seven months in the GOP-controlled legislature after opposition by the state’s leading business groups.

The measures, Assembly Bill 40 and Senate Bill 40, were introduced in February and assigned to legislative committees for hearings, which have not been scheduled. A short time after introduction, they were opposed by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB).

The bills would:

Allow a circuit court to order an employer to pay up to double the amount of unpaid wages in cases where the state had not settled an employee’s wage claim or negotiated a compromise;

Allow a circuit court to order an employer to pay up to triple the amount of unpaid wages in cases where the state had completed its attempt to settle or compromise an employee wage claim;

Increase from two to four years the statute of limitations for filing an unpaid wage claim;

Allow the state or circuit court impose interest charges of 2 percent for each month after the wages were due but unpaid;

Allow the court or state to impose fines of $500 for the first violation, $750 for the second, and $1,000 for the third and subsequent violations;

Prohibit the state from issuing or renewing a license, permit, or other certificate to operate to any business with wage claim judgments against it.

Both business groups have spent lavishly to elect Republicans, who control the Senate 19-14 and the Assembly 63-36.

WMC has spent an estimated $23.1 million since the beginning of 2011 to support Republican legislative and statewide candidates. In addition, WMC’s political action committee (PAC) and corporation have made $48,450 in campaign contributions from January 2011 through July 2018 – all to Republicans, including:

$16,000 to the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee;

$10,500 to the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate;

$3,000 each to GOP Sens. Devin LeMahieu, of Oostburg, and Roger Roth, of Appleton.

The NFIB’s PAC contributed about $35,000 between January 2011 and July 2018 to legislative and statewide candidates. All but $100 went to Republicans. The top legislative recipients were:

GOP Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, of Juneau, $3,250;

Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, $2,650;

Roth, $1,500.

The NFIB also spent nearly $2,300 on outside electioneering activities in the 2011 recall elections to support eight GOP state senators or candidates.