Home / General / Wisconsin Taking Another Step to the New Gilded Age

Wisconsin Taking Another Step to the New Gilded Age


Conservatives’ vision of the future of American work

Scott Walker’s Wisconsin really is vanguard of the New Gilded Age. Republicans have introduced a new bill, almost certain to become law, that will get rid of a state law requiring employers to give workers 24 hours in a row off at least once every 7 days. I know, quite the imposition upon the freedom of workers to work whenever they are compelled upon risk of termination want! But hey, workers have the option to opt out, by which conservatives mean the same as Gilded Age conservatives did in 1895 that workers had real options–do what we say or find another job. But no one is compelling them!

Conservatives say that workers will only have to forego their rest days if they volunteer, but the law’s opponents argue that businesses could create environments that are hostile to workers who insist on their rights. Workers who take their mandated rest days could be skipped over for promotion, denied privileges allowed to workers who work a 7-day week or could see sharp reductions in their schedules until they no longer have enough hours to make ends meet, financially.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said that it conceived of the law when it noted that the federal government does not have a rule mandating that workers receive a certain number of hours off per work cycle.

Lawmakers Grothman and Born told reporters from the Journal that they had heard from a diverse array of businesses that support the 7-day work week, but when asked to provide examples, they were only able to provide the names of groups belonging to the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce network.

“Here’s an opportunity for folks to work together to get things done in a positive way for the employer and the employee,” Born said. “It just seems like a win all the way around.”

All the way around. Indeed. All the way around to the conditions of 1895.

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  • It’s a senseless slap to the unions and blue collar workers; the way the law is interpreted, it allows employers to require workers up to 13 days straight.

    But it’s not enough, I guess. Not until they can own people again.

    • Manta

      I thought slave-owners respected the sanctity of sabbath.

      • low-tech cyclist

        Apparently not the current generation. They’re against labor laws even when Yahweh himself writes them.

        • Lee Rudolph

          Well, you can’t expect them to tolerate only being able to let people go every seven years!

        • dn

          Exactly. For all the yelling about a war on Christmas, they sure seem to be eager to wage their own war on Sundays.

          It’s almost as if the “traditional values” rhetoric is just a front for mammon-worship! [/snark]

  • Also, the WMC are wholly owned operatives of the Bradley Foundation and the Koch Industries. They are repellent and if there is an appalling stance on any particular issue, you can bet that is the one they hold, if not managing to make it even worse.

  • DrS

    It’s not actually one day in 7. The ‘week’ is calendar week, so you can make people work 12 days in a row, if they get Sunday off and then the Saturday of the next week.

    I keep seeing this misreported.

    From State of Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development site:

    : The law does not provide that the rest must be given every 7 days. For example, an employer may legally schedule work for 12 consecutive days within a 2 week period if the days of rest fall on the first and last days of the 2 week period.

    • DrS

      I’d also note that there are plenty of carve outs there for certain types of employees that are exempt from this law. Cause, why would you want people working in canneries to be rested and alert?

      • BigHank53

        Don’t worry, I’m sure they’ll get around to ‘reforming’ Workers’ Compensation by April or so.

      • Johnnie

        My guess is that the cannery exception is in place to account for limited harvesting seasons for the products being canned. In areas where one crop is processed almost exclusively, jobs processing foods are temporary and there’s only a short window in which that processing can feasibly occur. Not saying it makes working conditions any better, but there is some logic to the exemption.

        • DrS

          I can understand that, at least to some extent. Although, I think that even within the limited canning season, it can still be quite a long time between off days for workers.

          I drove agriculture trucks one summer (holy crap, 20 years ago), almost all of it tomatoes going to canneries. That limited period was still 3+ months. If I remember correctly, I worked 52 days in a row, which would have been longer if I’d started working at the beginning of the season.

          • i still hate salmon

            You use to be able to work two months straight in the Alaskan canneries during the summer.

  • LeeEsq

    If you don’t come to work on Sunday, don’t bother showing up on Monday.

    • MAJeff

      Woot! Two day weekend!

  • JMP

    Even the medieval lords were required to give the serfs Sundays off; but those trying to instate feualism today don’t even want that for the modern serfs. These people want employees to have no rights at all.

  • AcademicLurker

    I suppose the citizens of Wisconsin will happily accept mandatory 18 hour workdays and 7 day weeks as long as they’re assured that school teachers will have their pensions stolen.

    When did Wisconsin become Mississippi anyway?

  • Cheap Wino

    Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said that it conceived of the law when it noted that the federal government does not have a rule mandating that workers receive a certain number of hours off per work cycle.

    For accuracy this should say that after they spent months looking for excuses to justify treating people like dirt they discovered that the federal government. . . etc.

  • Soon, there’ll be no breaks!

    Not even to go to the bathroom.

    It’ll be called “America’s Freedom and Liberty “DEPENDS” On People Staying On Their Jobs Act! Of 2014.”
    The “Depends” will be sold at the company stores.

    And employers will convince their workers to make believe that they’re astronauts, by staying at their positions an eating their lunch from a tube at their station that’s attached to a container of pasty ground-down waste material from food processing plants – for which they’ll have $10 deducted from their paychecks, for every meal.


  • somethingblue

    Presumably at some point they’ll be wanting to reinstitute public executions. I wonder if workers will get the day off for that?

    • David Hunt

      Only for the executions of people who were trying to organize labor. The workers with be given (unpaid) time off that they will be required to use to attend the execution. Don’t want your pay docked while you’re attending a mandatory function? Make sure no one tries to organize the workers!

  • Murc

    Scott Walker’s Wisconsin really is vanguard of the New Gilded Age.

    Hey, lets be fair. North Carolina is giving them a real run for their money!

    Conservatives say that workers will only have to forego their rest days if they volunteer, but the law’s opponents argue that businesses could create environments that are hostile to workers who insist on their rights.

    Ugh. Yes. This.

    I remember back during the annual “people being made to work on Thanksgiving Day” kerfuffle last fall, Yglesias posted a thing about how a lot of people would like to work on Thanksgiving, so why not just give them the option to, because after all Chinese restaurants and movie theaters are open that day! And on Christmas too!

    And it’s like “you fucking dolt, if you make something like that voluntary it will soon become mandatory, because people who are desperate or just plain crazy will become the new standard by which those of us who have lives outside of work are judged by.”

    • Justice Tell Me a Story

      I think the big holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year’s, July 4, Memorial Day, Labor Day) should be mandatory double pay days for hourly workers.

      Also, you could probably solve the days off problem with a work week being equally so designated. By that, I mean that the end of a work week means a consecutive 24 hour period without work. Your 12 day work week would solve itself with time and one-half kicking in after 40 hours and not resetting until the 24 hour break.

      These Gilded Age guys worship at the church of the market and employer freedom. I’m somewhat sympathetic to the flexibility needed by employers at peak demand times (e.g. canning, holiday shopping season, an inventory buildup right before a plant shutdown for seasonal retooling, etc.) I just want workers to share in benefit and for employers to have to bear a cost to working their employees like a rented mule.

      • Murc

        I think the big holidays (Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year’s, July 4, Memorial Day, Labor Day) should be mandatory double pay days for hourly workers.

        It’s less about the amount of remuneration than the fact that I, and many others, think we should be allowed to not work at all on Christmas and Thanksgiving without needing to worry that it means we’re going to be fired or passed over.

        I mean, there’s obvious exceptions. The power grid needs to keep functioning. Emergency services, police, etc. But if you’re working an office job or retail, there’s no good goddamn excuse for them to have you in there.

        • UserGoogol

          People should be allowed to take the day off, but forcing everyone to take the same day off is horrible. What are the people who don’t celebrate the holiday supposed to do all day if everything’s closed? Mandate vacation days, maybe even force people to take them off before the year is over, but picking the day in advance based on social customs is cultural discrimination.

          • Tom Servo

            Oh no what will people do for a whole day if the mall is closed! Heaven forfend! I think that’s the silly side of things. You should be able to work if you want to. If you can’t entertain yourself, well, that’s your problem.

  • fledermaus

    The NY Times had an interesting story comparing Duluth, MN and Superior, WI with a democrat controlled state government and the Wisconsin one owned by the Koch brothers. It does engage in some both-sides-do it-ism but overall a good read.

    • Kurzleg

      As a MN resident, I do have some fear that the disparity in tax policy between the two states could potentially drain MN of businesses who look to relocate to WI. I have no doubt this is part of the GOP strategy when it comes to taxing business: one state’s tax policy does have an impact beyond that state’s borders. It’s a classic “race-to-the-bottom” dynamic, and as that foundry operated suggests, businesses will move barring significant obstacles or never come to MN in the first place. Depressing.

    • Stan Gable

      It’s good that they’re doing this article. In light of the Medicaid expansion/rejection experiment, I’d like to see more articles about other places where metro areas span red/blue states. There could be some pretty interesting dynamics that sprout up.

  • kindness

    Eventually the people pushing this and things like this will see exactly what happened in the last guilded age. Some one (or groups of someones) is going to go in and start ‘liberating’ these people of their lives. At that point the National Guard of that state will be sent in and we will have one big ‘party’.

    It didn’t work out too well back in the day. The reforms after the Depression and the addition of Social Security and Welfare helped keep the rich alive. There was an enlightened self interest that the current right seems to have completely forgotten.

    • Kurzleg

      There was an enlightened self interest that the current right seems to have completely forgotten.

      Nah, they fought those tooth-and-nail back then just as they’re doing now. The difference is that those programs had the votes to pass back then. They couldn’t pass today.

      • Right–there’s no effective difference between corporate desires in 1910, 1965, 1990, or today. The difference is to what extent they were forced to hide that in a language of enlightened self-interest while being forced to work behind the scenes to undermine all this stuff rather than openly.

        • Karen

          There is something good about hypocrisy, after all. I miss lip service.

          • Forcing corporations into hypocrisy does constitute a real expression of power from reformers, I agree.

  • Murc

    Tangent: something I’m expecting to see take off in a big way relatively soon is massively increased abuse of salaried positions.

    The 40-hour work week with time and a half for every hour over forty is unlikely to go away anytime soon, or at least so I delude myself. But you can avoid needing to pay people overtime by converting them to salary and giving them job requirements that just so happen to require sixty-hour weeks.

    This has been going on for years in a small way, but once the low-hanging fruit of worker abuse is picked off, I expect to see more esoteric means reached for.

    • NBarnes

      ‘going’ to see massively increased abuse of salaried positions? As in, ‘hasn’t happened yet’?

      • Murc

        I expect to see it happen much more than it already has. :)

        Up until now I don’t really think it’s been worth the time of a lot of employers to exercise the amount of creativity it would take to re-classify a lot of currently hourly jobs as salaried. It certainly happens, but I see this as being a large untapped market, as it were. As other ways to abuse your workers dry up, this is going to be one of the things they turn to, I think.

        • DrS

          I expect to see more of it too, and at lower pay level jobs than before.

          • Malaclypse

            You can’t do it at salary levels below $455/week.

            • DrS

              That’s under $24,000/yr and 11.375/hr based on 40 hour week. There are quite a few folks for which that threshold isn’t any protection.

              • JKTHs

                It apparently hasn’t been raised since 1975 and doesn’t automatically adjust for inflation or anything else.

                • DrS

                  Well, that makes a ton of sense. In California at least, that’s getting close to the minimum wage.

                  If it had kept consistent with inflation, that $455/wk level works out to 1915/wk (2012 CPI figures), which is just under $100,000/yr.

                • DrS

                  and by “ton of sense” I mean, that’s an explanation for why it is as low as it is. So low that it isn’t an effective protection for any job that might have this done.

    • DrS

      At my last gig, I saw a segment of jobs get reclassified as “analysts”, specifically so that they could be exempt positions. They tried to sell the workers on how great it would be to not have to worry about clocking in/out every day.

      Calling these jobs “analysts” stretched that phrase well past the point of any meaning.

      • Kurzleg

        So THAT’S why I see so many job listings with the word “analyst” in them.

        • DrS

          I’ll have to see if I can find the way the law on that. Mrs. S is a professional killjoy HR professional which has given me an additional perspective.

    • joel hanes

      salary and giving them job requirements that just so happen to require sixty-hour weeks.

      This has been SOP for companies of all sizes in Silicon Valley since about 1990. Fortunately, the salaries have in general been generous; unfortunately, all those well-paid overworked people end up living in crappy houses on tiny yards because a 2 BR 1 B “starter home” goes for 8 to 10 X a typical annual starting salary.

    • Anonymous

      It’s already happening to currently salaried workers. 10 years ago I worked for an firm that specialized in outsourcing in IT. The affected employees were almost exclusively salaried. The new work rules required 40 PRODUCTIVE hours per week; productive hours did not include breaks, lunch, training, etc. The firm was USian and the new outsourcing unit was in Canada.
      I generally worked 14-16 hours a day. Finally gave it up when I hit retirement age. It’s not a healthy environment.

  • dollared

    The painful part of this is that it is a classic piece of ratchet legislation. Once undone, it will never be reinstated. Democrats simply refuse to do either thing that would give us a prayer of reversal:

    1. argue for reversing ALL of the Republicans’ moves. (E.g. Obama found it too hard to reverse the Bush tax cuts, or too attractive to keep the lower end of them)
    2. argue for workers’ rights. They.just.wont.do.it.

    So I was born in Wisconsin with this protection, and I will die before this is ever reversed.

    • Kurzleg

      So I was born in Wisconsin with this protection, and I will die before this is ever reversed.

      Same here. As a MN resident now, I can only shake my head in disappointment while thanking my lucky stars I chose to attend college in MN.

  • shah8

    Well, not to be too doomtastically optimistic, but I don’t think it’s actually possible for low wage, low tax states to steal very much in the way of jobs–because they are low services. The US South has never stolen very many jobs, relative to the jobs it *could* have by being a sane governance state that fully taxes for shit and provides shit. A few textile factories and auto maquiladora-nortes doesn’t really count.

    At the end of the day, what all these legislation does is make it harder for companies to staff their workforce with good workers, and thus invalidate themselves. While such cut the nose to spite the face actions are terrifically common, like the anti-migrant worker laws, like the Alabama one, they clearly depresses the Alabama, Georgia economies (as well as impact downstream state employers of migrant labor). As such, these laws probably do not have a very long term prospect as live laws. Norms and customs will block the attempt at getting more work days, and the politicians that support such gilded age laws are building up yet more ill-will. There’s only so many voters in Waukesha afraid of black people…

    • I would say you are too optimistic by quite a bit.

      • shah8

        Which state, Wisconsin or Minnesota, is gaining or losing jobs?

        Which state, Wisconsin or Minnesota, has increasing political stability?

        Do you think companies that tries to pull weekendless weeks on a wide scale can keep their business staffed, long term? Do you think that Wisconsin can deal with people leaving in ever larger amounts to where the jobs are? Even if Wisconsin manages to maintain all the Gilded Age stuff, it will probably serve as a demonstration of what bad governance means, like South Carolina vis á vis North Carolina. And it’s not like Art Pope can keep this going in North Carolina for all that long, either. Gilded Age issues, at the end of the day, matter at the national level. States are too small, and many of them have too modern and diversified an economy to enact crude transfers of labor and wealth like the era where there was lots of farmland and a western frontier of a kind.

        I think we are well beyond the bottom of the right-wing rust-beltism trend.

        • Well, the way you frame it, it’s possible when compared to its neighbors. I think though for the Koch Brothers and others, the more states they create that look like what Wisconsin and North Carolina are becoming, the better they are. Their ultimate goal is to bring working and living conditions in the U.S. down to levels not much about those in Mexico, if not the real poor countries of Central America or south Asia. So I think it’s more likely that they will engage in an all-out attempt to turn Minnesota into Wisconsin. Whether that succeeds or not, obviously I don’t know. But then I never thought Wisconsin would turn into Mississippi either.

          • shah8

            At the end of the day, the game is at the national level. Everything the Koch bros do, the DeVos family, etc, are about affecting national politics, because the big meat is transfering wealth from wealthy states to their corporations, and from national coffers. Art Pope is…I don’t know, maybe too crazy and local. Not that we can’t get upset about these laws and the custom child support laws, but it’s important to avoid getting locked into the state perspective. Nothing Wisconsin can do can affect the Koch bros bottom line in any material sense. It’s about power, and they are a stepping stone. That stepping stone isn’t to the Twin Cities or Cedar Rapids. That ain’t what got the meat. Chicago has its own high powered defenders, and Chicago has meat–you need the feds in order to make Chicago give that meat away.

  • Brad Nailer

    Sorry to inject an administrative question, but is there a link on the word “Indeed” in the last graf of the post? It’s showing up on my screen and the link goes to some jobs site. It’s been happening to me a lot lately. Any ideas?

    • Brad Nailer

      In fact, the link just appeared on the word “Indeed” in my comment. For all I know, it’s going to happen to this comment, too.

      • I don’t see it here.

      • Shouldn’t be and I don’t have one.

        • Brad Nailer


          • Ahuitzotl

            There’s an ugly browser extension POS that has done that to me on Chrome, had to rip it out and reinstall to get rid of the damn thing

  • Brad Nailer

    Which it just did.

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