Scott Walker Does Away With Workers’ Weekends, Living Wage

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has gone so far as to challenge the mere existence of a minimum wage.

flickr /  John Pemble

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Sunday signed into law a $72.7 billion two-year state budget that kills the state’s living wage law and takes away workers’ right to a weekend.

Walker’s latest austerity measures came just hours before he officially became a contender for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination.

Wisconsin law required that the state’s minimum wage “not be less than a living wage.” Last fall, workers filed a lawsuit arguing that the state’s $7.25 hourly minimum wage did not constitute a living wage. But Walker’s budget stripped the language “living wage” from the law, nullifying the court battle and making wage increases more difficult for people who work.

Walker, in his first interview since announcing his candidacy, challenged the mere existence of a minimum wage.

“The left claims they’re for American workers, and they’ve just got really lame ideas. Things like the minimum wage,” he said. “Instead of focusing on that, we need to talk about how we get people the skills and the education and the qualifications that they need to take on the careers that pay far more than the minimum wage.”

Walker’s budget included many other austerity measures, most notably a $250 million spending cut for the University of Wisconsin system.

Perhaps the most surprising piece of the budget is section 56, a measure that essentially repeals the working weekend. Under the provision, employees could sign contracts stating they “voluntarily choose” to work a full seven days without a single day of rest.

The problem with these measures, say economic policy experts, is that workers may not be able to exercise real choice in workplace situations.

“It’s a very hard thing to know whether something is truly voluntary or not,” Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute told the Huffington Post in 2014 when a similar measure was considered. “If the employer puts pressure on people and lets them know they will be unhappy if workers exercise their right to have a day off, that might be enough so that no worker ever does anything but volunteer to work seven days a week.”

Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature introduced identical proposals in 2014 and 2015.

“The difference between Wisconsin and Washington is we actually get things done,” Walker told a crowd Sunday evening at his budget signing.

But Wisconsin residents aren’t pleased with what their governor has done. Walker sports a 41 percent approval rating in his home state, according to a pair of polls released in April. Fifty-six percent of registered Wisconsin voters disapprove of Walker’s performance as governor, per a Marquette Law School survey.

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