WED AM News: Leaders of restaurant industry, unions clash over child labor bill; State estimated to have lost 15 percent of its restaurants

— Leaders of the state’s restaurant industry and unions in Wisconsin clashed on a bill that would expand working hours for 14- and 15-year-olds in the state, though neither supports the legislation in its current form.

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO President Stephanie Bloomingdale says the bill would be “taking us backwards” by allowing teenagers in this age range to work from 6 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. on school nights and from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. on other nights. The bill would only apply to workers that aren’t covered by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

The state currently follows federal child labor guidelines that restrict working hours for those under 16 to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. for most of the year and from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. from June 1 to Labor Day.

“We’re the AFL-CIO, we believe in work. But we want that work to be good work, we want it to be safe work,” Bloomingdale said yesterday during a luncheon in Madison hosted by “We believe these youngsters are going to develop good work ethics, gain some important job skills. But we don’t want that to be a way to fill these holes that adults are supposed to be filling.”

The legislation, from lead sponsors Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, and Sen. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, passed the state Senate in October. Earlier this month, it was referred to the Assembly Committee on Labor and Integrated Employment.

Kristine Hillmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, said “there are some problems” with the bill. But she said the WRA supports expanding nighttime working hours to 8 p.m. for younger teenagers.

“We’re not behind this bill; we’re actually sideways on it because we see difficulties in it,” she said. “But we also think there needs to be a recognition that teenagers at 14 and 15 years old are doing other things in their life that are not stopping at 7 o’clock at night. So there needs to be a little bit of a balance, and a little bit of flexibility.”

But Bloomingdale shot back that “going to a volleyball game is not the same as working at a burger joint,” arguing “you cannot equate the two at all.” She warned the bill “is just the beginning of a slippery slope.”

Still, Hillmer noted that federal restrictions on the total number of hours that minors can work in a week would stay in place even if the bill becomes law.

See more on the bill:

— Wisconsin has lost some 15 percent of its restaurants over the course of the pandemic, based on the latest figures gathered by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association. 

“When you lose 22 percent of your workforce, it is a difficult thing to backfill,” Hillmer said yesterday during the luncheon. “That’s why you’re seeing reduced hours, or reduced days of the week they’re open — because they’re trying not to burn out the staff that they have.” 

She explained many restaurants are making do with fewer staff members, as the industry has been sluggish to rebound amid the ongoing pandemic. She noted wages have been on the rise, added that “you cannot find a dishwasher for under $17 an hour” in Milwaukee. 

“That’s an unskilled position and they can’t even get applicants,” she said. 

Wisconsin State AFL-CIO’s Bloomingdale countered that “these are essential jobs to the industry … they ought to be able to make a living wage too.” She cited a recent MIT report that found a family of four living in Wisconsin needs both heads of household to each earn $22 per hour to “just make it.” 

Michael Childers, a professor in UW-Madison’s Wisconsin School of Business, explained that workers “at the lower end” of the job market are in a better financial position now due to stimulus payments and other factors. 

“That provided people the opportunity, as both of my colleagues said, to reassess. What are my other options out here? What can I do?” he said. “That’s created sort of this vicious circle or virtuous cycle — I guess whichever way you’re seeing it from — but this opportunity for workers to be more selective.” 

Bloomingdale noted many workers in the restaurant industry have struggled to make ends meet, and the pandemic provided them a chance to reassess their options and value to their employers. 

“We’re looking for a reset, because it’s been far too long that that is off-kilter,” she said. 

She said more workers are now looking to organize, pointing to the recent example of Starbucks workers in Buffalo, New York voting to form a union. It’s the first to do so among thousands of locations owned by the international coffeehouse chain. Panelists also highlighted employees of Milwaukee-based Collectivo Coffee forming a union.

“They are in the midst of their first contract right now, and they worked really hard to organize their union,” Bloomingdale said. “We wish them much success.” 

Listen to audio from the event here:

— Gov. Tony Evers has announced $59.5 million in grants to 12 regional projects to help develop long-term solutions to the state’s workforce challenges.

The efforts include: a public-private partnership to train and attract healthcare workers to rural Wisconsin; expanding affordable, high-quality child care in south-central Wisconsin; and helping those who are incarcerated earn undergraduate degrees from the University of Wisconsin.

The grants are part of the $100 million in federal COVID-19 funds that Evers directed to the Workforce Innovation Grant program earlier this year. A second round of grants will be handed out in 2022.

Evers has faced criticism from Republicans on the state’s workforce issues. That includes his refusal to end enhanced federal unemployment benefits before they expired in September.

The guv has noted the state had a workforce shortage even before the pandemic took hold, and Wisconsin has both a low unemployment rate and a high labor participation rate.

In October, the state’s unemployment rate dipped to 3.2 percent, while the labor participation rate was 66.4 percent, among the top 10 in the country.

“There is no one-size-fits-all solution to addressing the workforce challenges across our state, so these funds are critically important to encourage regions and communities to develop cutting-edge, long-term solutions to the unique workforce challenges they face,” Evers said.

The biggest grants include:

*$10 million to Chippewa Valley Technical College to address the need for skilled workers in metal fabrication in manufacturing.

*$9.4 million to UW-Eau Claire to partner with local school districts and social service organizations to place education and social work students in rural settings to encourage them to build careers in those communities.

*$9 million to Mid-State Technical College to address workforce challenges in the state’s central region with job training and other services. The money also will help construct the Advanced Manufacturing, Engineering Technology, and Apprenticeship Center.

See the release:

— The latest episode of “ The Show” spotlights Aaron Olver, managing director at University Research Park in Madison. 

Olver describes ongoing construction at the corner of Mineral Point Road and Whitney Way, the need for more laboratory space for biotechnology companies, and other trends within one of the nation’s leading research parks.

Also, in this edition of “The Show,” Tom Still talks about Wisconsin’s academic research and development standing, and outlines upcoming events and news sources. 

Watch the show here: 

— More than 8 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in the state in the year since the first dose was given on Dec. 14, 2020. 

In a release, Gov. Tony Evers and the Department of Health Services are marking the one-year milestone since COVID-19 vaccinations first began in the state, noting that over 6.8 million primary series doses have been administered to over 3.5 million people. In addition, the DHS site shows nearly 1.3 million booster shots have been administered. 

“Wisconsin has been a national leader of getting available shots in arms, and this work has been essential to keeping our kids, families, and communities healthy and safe so we can put this pandemic behind us,” Evers said in a statement. “We couldn’t have gotten here without the dedication of our vaccinators, partners, and Wisconsinites in every corner of our state.” 

The release shows nearly 3,000 providers have registered as vaccinators and more than 2,500 are actively administering doses. 

Over the last six weeks since vaccines have been available for children aged 5-11, DHS says nearly 90,000 kids in this age range have gotten their first vaccine dose. About 18 percent of Wisconsin children aged 5-11 have received at least one dose, and just over 10 percent have completed the vaccine series. 

Among all age ranges, 61.1 percent of Wisconsin’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 57.4 percent has completed the vaccine series. 

See the release: 

See the latest vaccination numbers: 

— A Texas-based manufacturer of medical devices has announced the acquisition of Matrex Mold and Tool, which produces metal injection production and prototype molds for medical devices and other products. 

Matrex will continue operations at its Portage facility, according to a release from Argon Medical Devices. The larger company says the acquisition will help “maintain control and product quality for mainstream manufacturing,” as well as reducing the time it takes to bring new products to market. Argon has been a customer of Matrex for more than 25 years. 

“We are excited to join Argon and support the company’s mission to improve the lives of patients and caregivers through manufacturing and delivery of best-in-class medical devices,” John Matson, president of Matrex, said in the release. 

Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. 

See the release: 


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# African American Chamber’s Legacy headquarters opens on King Drive



– World Championship Cheese Contest to include cheese curds


– Irgens gets go-ahead for mixed-use redevelopment in Wauwatosa

– Irgens plans apartments, retail, medical clinic on Mayfair Road in Wauwatosa

– See aerial photos of Couture project site as construction crews advance to next stages


– Wisconsin schools receive pollinator grants


– Baird Capital leads $46M investment in maker of miniaturized robots for laparoscopic surgery


– Wisconsin attorney general won’t enforce any abortion ban

– Lawyer: Ex-pain clinic owner sentenced to 20 years to appeal

– Fox Point man faces federal charges for allegedly using investor money for cars, operating restaurant


– Miles White exits Abbott Labs with retirement as executive chairman


– Dairy Drive shelters, Plaza Hotel first steps of many to assist Madison homeless

– Fitchburg food insecurity nonprofit Little John’s pivots to catering


– Milwaukee submits bid for Republican National Convention

– City of Milwaukee officially submits bid to host Republican National Convention


– African American Chamber marks completion of co-working space in Bronzeville neighborhood 

– E-commerce fulfillment company coming to Milwaukee’s Near West Side


– Pick ‘n Save parent Kroger changes Covid policy for unvaccinated employees


– Fast-growing Madison supply chain tech startup SwanLeap bought by $4.3B Atlanta firm


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