MSNBC.com Hypes Fear That 'Workers' Could 'Lose... Right to a Weekend'

A bill before the Wisconsin state legislature would repeal a provision in state law which mandates that employees of private businesses must get one day off after every six worked. Proponents of the bill argue the measure will allow business owners and their employees to have greater flexibility in scheduling and permit an employee to volunteer to work a seventh-straight day.

But to the folks at MSNBC.com, the law could be a threat to the working man's down-time. "Could workers lose their right to a weekend?" an alarming headline on the network's main Web page asked. Clicking the link brings readers to Ned Resnikoff's January 17 story, "Wisconsin may eliminate ban on 7-day work weeks," which was slanted towards the perspective of liberal labor unions while dismissive of a business lobby backing the proposal (emphasis mine):


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.”

You'll notice that not only was the perspective of labor unions treated as the altruistic policy view in defense of everyday guys, but the closing paragraph added a patina of holiness to the union perspective and with it a wickedness to the push for greater flexibility in the state's labor law by the business lobby.

Of course the folks in the liberal media are forever haranguing social conservatives for allowing religion to influence their policy preferences, but in this case the religious case for blue laws is upheld as admirable because, well, it advances the right side of the argument in the network's eyes.

But even in Resnikoff's reporting we have hints that such a law is not going to be the death knell of the working man's weekend. "Most states don't have mandated rest days like the one in Wisconsin" and, what's more, some Badger State businesses "have already had the requirement waived." So most states don't have laws like this, yet most Americans enjoy work-free weekends, even those who are not in labor unions. And isn't it better to grant wider flexibility to most every Wisconsin business rather than let the politically enjoy the benefits that come from working out an exemption that their competitors can't obtain.

In the globalized, high-tech economy, it is vital for many businesses to be able to work around the clock when it comes to crucial project crunch times. If you're a software company based in say Madison and you're working on a tight deadline to release a new product or to fix a nasty bug in an existing one, you're going to lose out big time if you have to send your top-notch software code guys home because they can't work a seventh-straight day. If, however, you had the flexibility to keep them on the clock until the problem was resolved or the project finished, you would happily give those dedicated employees a day or two off after the craziness was over and things returned to normal.

There's plenty of debate to be had on this issue, but it seems MSNBC is not the place to find it. The Lean Forward network wants to throw itself backward, seeing labor unions as paragons of virtue against the menace of management. That's a perspective that has never fit the complex reality of the business world but does fit neatly into the Left's romanticization of the labor movement's halcyon days of yore.

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is the Managing Editor for NewsBusters