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Why Did Michigan Republicans Approve a Minimum Wage Hike and Paid Sick Leave? (Updated)

Auditi Guha

The legislature can now amend the initiatives with a majority vote instead of putting them on the ballot on election day—which means Republicans can undermine the popular laws.

UPDATE, November 12, 11:50 a.m.: Michigan GOP lawmakers plan to water down laws to raise the state’s minimum wage and provide paid sick leave to workers before Governor-elect Gretchen Whitmer takes office in January, the Detroit News reports.

Michigan Republicans passed measures this week requiring employers offer earned paid sick leave and increase the minimum wage and tipped wage to $12 per hour. But activists remain skeptical of GOP lawmakers’ true intentions.

Pete Vargas, campaign manager for Michigan One Fair Wage, told Rewire.News that activists are aware of the GOP’s intention: to take the legislation off the November ballot in an effort to suppress voter turnout among workers, people of color, women, and immigrants, and to gut the laws by passing amendments in the lame duck session.

“We are going to continue to pursue intensive voter turnout activities, especially among the people they are really trying to keep away from the polls—workers, people of color, and women—and to create electoral consequences for legislators who plan to gut the legislation,” he said. “We are going to also make all Michigan voters aware of some of the legislators’ intent to keep them from voting and to undermine the will of the people.”

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While some business groups challenged the two ballot proposals, advocates surpassed the signature requirements and the GOP-held Michigan House joined the state senate to approve the legislation on Wednesday. The legislature can now amend the initiatives with a majority vote instead of putting them on the ballot on election day—which means Republicans can undermine the popular laws.

Many Michigan Democrats railed against passage of the sick leave and wage measures, with state Rep. Leslie Love (D-Detroit) accusing GOP legislators of “nothing less than voter suppression,” Michigan Live reports

Sherry Leiwant, co-president and co-founder of A Better Balance, a national legal nonprofit that supported the local initiatives, warned that the fight for paid sick leave and fair wages is not over. “Because the measure, which had qualified for the November ballot, was passed first by the legislature and not at the ballot box, we must remain vigilant to make sure that lawmakers do not use the lame duck session to weaken the policy they passed today.”

The citizen-led proposals would have gone before voters in November, but the legislature’s preemptive move ensures they will not. Legislators need a three-fourths majorities to change ballot measures, as opposed to the simple majority they need to change laws passed through the legislative process.

Michigan One Fair Wage, which submitted more than 373,500 signatures for its proposal to raise the hourly minimum wage to $12 by 2022 and tipped wage to $12 by 2024, has threatened to sue, Vargas said.

“The Michigan One Fair Wage committee is going to sue the legislature if it attempts to amend the legislation. In doing so it would violate the Michigan state constitution, which disallows a legislature from adopting a measure and then amending it in the same legislative session. It’s black and white. There is no gray area there,” he said.

Michigan’s current minimum hourly wage is $9.25 for regular workers and $3.52 for tipped workers.

“From Texas to Michigan, Americans are sending a message that they’re ready to do what politicians have failed to do: ensure no one [has] to choose between caring for a sick child and paying rent. Elected leaders who fail to listen will be held accountable,” said Jonathan Schleifer, executive director of the Fairness Project, which supported the Michigan ballot initiative as well as similar initiatives in Texas, Arizona, and Washington. 

All ten Democrats and three Republicans in the state senate opposed the measures, which both passed in 24-13 votes. In the house, 21 Democrats joined the majority of GOP lawmakers to support it 78 to 28. Six house Republicans opposed it, the Detroit News reported.

Meanwhile, a new report from economists at the University of California, Berkeley has good news for employers and governments worried about the adverse effects of increasing the minimum wage. Looking at the first six large cities that raised the minimum wage higher than $10—Chicago, the District of Columbia, Oakland, San Francisco, San Jose, and Seattle—researchers found significant pay increases and no significant employment reductions.

“When these minimum wage policies were being considered, some predicted that they would lead to significant job losses. We did not find such job losses,” said Carl Nadler, co-author of the report. “We did find that these cities’ minimum wage policies increased the earnings of low-wage workers, just as intended.”

The policies adopted will eventually increase earnings for up to 30 percent of the workforce in these six cities, researchers said.

The #RaisetheWage campaign fought for workers in Michigan to be able to make ends meet. It also fought for workers who rely on tips—like restaurant servers who make only $3.52 an hour—to have stability, predictability, and dignity with their paychecks, according to the One Fair Wage website. The tipped minimum wage is a major factor in widespread sexual harassment in the restaurant industry.

“Greedy CEOs who don’t want to pay their employees a fair wage are forcing people onto public assistance. No one should have to be on assistance just because their bosses don’t pay them enough,” the Michigan One Fair Wage website states.

Michigan Time to Care, which led the ballot campaign to guarantee earned sick leave for all workers and collected more than 380,000 signatures, estimates that nearly 2 million workers in the state’s private sector don’t get sick leave. The proposal will help residents earn one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked, according to the website.

It requires businesses to provide paid leave for workers recovering from illness or caring for a sick child. It also protects people dealing with domestic or sexual violence, and parents attending a school meeting resulting from a child’s disability.

The recent vote has Michigan joining 11 states and 32 local jurisdictions that have passed similar measures and is “amazingly important,” Leiwant said.

“Almost 40 percent of the workforce did not have any sick paid time off at all to take care of themselves or their children or family members before we started these campaigns in these states and cities and now things have improved,” she said. “It’s a really critical issue. Many people don’t realize how many people lacked even a single day of paid sick time before these laws were passed.”

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