“My mes­sage to mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture that do want to mi­cro­man­age cities … is, if you re­ally feel that strongly, run for mayor. It’s a great job”

Ari­zona Repub­li­cans want to stop cities from set­ting ben­e­fits “You can’t put a mu­nic­i­pal­ity in jail, nor would we”

Bloomberg Businessweek (Europe) - - NEWS - −Josh Eidel­son

In­spired by de­ci­sions in such cities as Ta­coma, Wash., and El­iz­a­beth, N.J., to re­quire com­pa­nies to of­fer paid sick leave, Lau­ren Kuby, a City Coun­cil mem­ber in Tempe, Ariz., be­gan push­ing a year ago for her city to do the

same. By Septem­ber, Kuby had se­cured enough sup­port from her col­leagues to have Tempe for­mally ex­plore the is­sue. “I re­ally took se­ri­ously Obama’s call to take lo­cal ac­tion,” says Kuby. “I saw cities as the place to make a dif­fer­ence.”

Then Kuby and her col­leagues heard that Ari­zona’s Repub­li­can-con­trolled state leg­is­la­ture was con­sid­er­ing pun­ish­ing cities that tried to set their own codes for worker ben­e­fits. Ari­zona’s House passed a bill on March 1 spec­i­fy­ing that cities can’t re­quire pri­vate em­ploy­ers to pro­vide paid sick leave or va­ca­tion. The state Se­nate has passed com­pan­ion leg­is­la­tion that would cut state funds, used to pay for ser­vices like po­lice and fire­fight­ing, for cities that try to su­per­sede state laws. “They ac­tu­ally de­cided to dis­solve our study group be­cause they were so chilled by the state threat,” says Kuby.

Law­mak­ers in Phoenix, Ari­zona’s cap­i­tal, say they were in­spired af­ter the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor, Doug Ducey, called in his Jan­uary State of the State ad­dress for cities “to put the brakes on ill-ad­vised plans to cre­ate a patch­work of dif­fer­ent wage and em­ploy­ment laws.” He vowed to do ev­ery­thing in his power to block them, “up to and in­clud­ing chang­ing the dis­tri­bu­tion of state-shared rev­enue.”

Cities “think that they’re an in­de­pen­dent and sov­er­eign en­tity from the state, which is not true,” says Ari­zona Se­nate Pres­i­dent Andy Biggs, who spear­headed one of the bills. “You can’t put a mu­nic­i­pal­ity in jail, nor would we. What we’re re­ally seek­ing to do is pro­vide a de­ter­rent ef­fect.”

Leg­is­la­tors in other states have also moved to stop lo­cal of­fi­cials from try­ing to pass min­i­mum wage in­creases or paid leave. In Alabama, state law­mak­ers in­val­i­dated a Birm­ing­ham min­i­mum wage in­crease to $10.10, from $7.25, in Fe­bru­ary by pass­ing a law deny­ing cities such au­thor­ity. Idaho’s leg­is­la­ture passed a sim­i­lar law in March.

Paid sick leave sup­port­ers scored their first win in San Fran­cisco in 2006. Twenty-three cities and five states have en­acted sick leave since, most re­cently in Ver­mont on March 9. But such laws have been squashed in GOP-dom­i­nated states. Mil­wau­kee passed a paid leave law by ref­er­en­dum in 2008. Fol­low­ing a strat­egy used to block lo­cal reg­u­la­tions on smok­ing and guns, Wis­con­sin Gov­er­nor Scott Walker signed leg­is­la­tion over­rid­ing it in 2011. “Most of us hadn’t paid at­ten­tion to what had hap­pened in the to­bacco world and in the gun world,” says Ellen Bravo, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the ad­vo­cacy group Fam­ily Val­ues @ Work. “We should have paid at­ten­tion in Mil­wau­kee.”

Restau­rant own­ers have led the op­po­si­tion to city sick leave or­di­nances in Ari­zona. “We just ask that they have the abil­ity to choose what reg­u­la­tions are put on their busi­ness,” says Ari­zona Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion lob­by­ist Chi­anne Hewer. “At the state level, while it’s still crazy there as well, you’re able to have one dis­cus­sion.”

The cur­rent fra­cas is the lat­est round in a two-decade tug of war be­tween Ari­zona’s cities and its leg­is­la­ture over la­bor rules. Leg­is­la­tors first banned cities from pass­ing their own min­i­mum wage in­creases in 1997. Vot­ers over­rode that law with a 2006 ref­er­en­dum au­tho­riz­ing cities to pass min­i­mum wage and ben­e­fits laws. In 2013, leg­is­la­tors banned cities from reg­u­lat­ing wages and em­ployee ben­e­fits, which ac­tivists suc­cess­fully chal­lenged in court, cit­ing the 2006 ref­er­en­dum.

If leg­is­la­tors’ lat­est pro­pos­als be­come law, Democrats in­clud­ing Phoenix Mayor Greg Stan­ton prom­ise more law­suits. “My mes­sage to mem­bers of the leg­is­la­ture that do want to mi­cro­man­age cities and to pre­empt cities on or­di­nances and laws that re­flect the val­ues of our com­mu­nity,” he says, “is, if you re­ally feel that strongly, run for mayor. It’s a great job.” The bot­tom line Ari­zona cities that man­date sick pay would lose state fund­ing un­der leg­is­la­tion be­ing con­sid­ered by state law­mak­ers.

“Most of us hadn’t paid at­ten­tion to what had hap­pened in the to­bacco world and in the gun world. We should have paid at­ten­tion in Mil­wau­kee.”

——Ellen Bravo

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