Business groups cheering Supreme Court order while owners assess reopening

Many business groups in Wisconsin are applauding the state Supreme Court for overruling the stay-at-home order, though a top labor official is slamming the potential negative effect on worker health and safety. 

Bill Smith, state director for NFIB Wisconsin, says small business leaders should be trusted to put the wellbeing of their customers and employees first, calling those two groups the “lifeblood” of these companies. 

“I’m confident they will do what needs to be done to create environments for workers and customers that are safe and secure,” he told yesterday. 

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business association, says the decision recognizes the need for the Legislature and Gov. Tony Evers to work together on a response to the COVID-19 crisis. 

“(The) decision is a win for the state’s economy, countless businesses and hundreds of thousands of unemployed Wisconsinites who are ready to get back to work,” said WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer in a statement. 

But Wisconsin AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale is criticizing the “cynical lawsuit” brought by GOP legislative leaders, arguing it was aimed at taking authority away from the governor. She says the economy shouldn’t be reopened until Wisconsin has a “constant and adequate supply” of personal protective equipment for workers. 

“If workers aren’t safe, the public isn’t safe,” she said in a statement. “Right now, far too many essential workers are working without adequate personal protective equipment; their workplaces are not sufficiently cleaned and sanitized; and recommended social distancing is not universally practiced.” 

Business owners across the state are responding to the Supreme Court’s decision in varying ways. Carol Trainor, owner of the Urban Olive & Vine in Hudson, says she’s holding off on doing so for the good of both staff and customers, according to a report from the Star Tribune. But the owner of Anne’s Barbershop in Reedsburg, Annie Brown, plans to open next week and already has more than 100 appointments set, a report from the Wisconsin State Journal shows. 

Chad Arndt, owner of the Iron Hog Saloon in Port Washington, posted on Facebook last week that he would be reopening on Wednesday afternoon — well before the stay-at-home order restricting businesses was overruled. In a follow-up post after opening, Arndt thanked patrons who showed up, writing “right or wrong we control our lives.” 

After the Supreme Court decision was announced Wednesday, the Wisconsin Tavern League quickly urged members to reopen immediately while also urging members to use Evers administration guidance on how to reopen safely. Reports soon emerged of packed bars and restaurants in the state. But the Wisconsin Restaurant Association is taking a more moderate approach, calling on restaurant owners to open if they feel it’s the right move for their business and community. 

“Of paramount concern is the need to mitigate the risk of spread and build confidence in their customers,” said Kristine Hillmer, the group’s president and CEO. 

While some bars opened soon after the Supreme Court’s decision Wednesday, others have posted on social media that they will be remaining closed for the time being. 

As businesses across the state are deciding how to respond to the latest development, hospitals have already begun the process of phasing in services and procedures that were postponed in the earlier phase of the pandemic response. Wisconsin Hospital Association President Eric Borgerding says the state has made “great progress,” but he continues to urge businesses and individuals to practice social distancing and proper hygiene. 

In a statement, he said WHA is still reviewing the Supreme Court’s decisions but added that “we believe it has no direct impact on the ability of hospitals to continue safely and effectively caring for patients, and no one should hesitate to use our state’s excellent health care system.” 

The NFIB’s Smith noted that certain regions of the state including many northern counties have had “very few” confirmed cases of COVID-19 compared to places like Milwaukee, Madison and Green Bay. He predicts businesses in these northern regions are “probably going to get their doors open a little quicker.” 

In other parts of the state, county officials are exercising their local authority to keep businesses closed despite the Supreme Court overruling the Evers’ administration extension, which was due to expire on May 26. And Smith noted that some county sheriffs were already saying they wouldn’t enforce the restrictions on businesses. 

“This is where the governor’s approach was weak. Some areas of the state need more stringent requirements while other parts of the state need more flexibility,” Smith said. 

The Wisconsin Dairy Alliance, which represents large dairy operations in the state, joined WMC in weighing in on the Supreme Court case, supporting the view of the GOP lawmakers that filed the suit. In a statement, the organization said “non-elected appointed agency personnel must be stopped from exceeding their legal authority,” referring to DHS Secretary Andrea Palm. 

And Tom Kleiman, president of the Wisconsin Lakeshore Business Association, said the Supreme Court’s ruling “brings clarity to not only the fishing industry but all businesses in Wisconsin.” 

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–By Alex Moe