Group wants court to kill ballot proposal hiking minimum wage to $12

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
Alicia Renee Farris of Michigan One Fair Wage speaks outside the Michigan Secretary of State's office on May 21, 2018.

Lansing — Two business groups opposing ballot proposals that would raise Michigan's minimum wage and mandate paid sick leave have filed challenges with the Secretary of State.

One argues that a proposed ballot issue sidesteps the state Constitution and improperly capitalizes words, while the other contains fraudulent signatures.  

Michigan Opportunity, a group aiming to protect the state's “hospitality industry,” also filed a complaint in the Court of Appeals Thursday that questioned the eligibility of the ballot proposal petition that would ratchet up Michigan’s minimum wage to $12 by 2022.

The challenges were filed Friday with the Bureau of Elections, Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said. The state department had not yet been served the Court of Appeals complaint.

In its complaint to the Court of Appeals, opposition group Michigan Opportunity asked the court to direct the Board of State Canvassers to reject the Michigan One Fair Wage petition because the proposal seeks to amend the minimum wage law by reference to its title, without displaying the full law for people signing the petition.

“We firmly believe that the Michigan One Fair Wage petition, financed almost exclusively by out-of-state interests, has willfully violated Michigan’s Constitution and Michigan election law to achieve the special interest ends of their financiers,” said Michigan Opportunity spokesman Justin Winslow.

Michigan One Fair Wage officials say the challenges to their proposal “lack merit.” 

“We know that multibillion-dollar corporate special interests are not fans of direct democracy or raising wages for Michigan’s working families who struggle to earn enough to take care of their families,” Michigan One Fair Wage campaign manager Darci McConnell said in a statement.

The ballot proposal would raise Michigan’s $9.25 minimum wage incrementally to $10 an hour in 2019, $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021 and $12 in 2022. Any future increases after 2022 would be tied to inflation.

The proposal also would phase out by 2024 the lower wage rate for restaurant servers and other employees who receive tips.

Though the Michigan One Fair Wage proposal claims to create a new law, “it is clearly a revision, alteration or amendment” of the existing minimum wage law, according to the complaint filed by Michigan Opportunity.

So Michigan One Fair Wage would be required per the state Constitution to republish in full the sections of the minimum wage law that would be revised. Instead, the petition only makes reference to the title of the law.

 A person reading the proposal “would not know what the current minimum wage is, that the minimum wage rate would be changed including the method by which it is calculated, nor would the Legislature or people know that the MOFW Proposal would result in a dramatic change to the tip credit,” the complaint reads.  

Michigan Opportunity's challenge filed with the Bureau of Elections targets more technical issues with the minimum wage petition, including the improper capitalization of certain words, people who marked boxes for both city and township when they signed the petition, and insufficient signatures. 

The Board of State Canvassers released copies of the petition signatures sampled on June 28 and gave parties a deadline of Friday to challenge the signatures.

The board is expected to meet before the month is out, Woodhams said, but an agenda for the meeting has not yet been published. The petition signatures will need to be certified by early September for the proposal to make the November ballot.

The ballot proposal is opposed by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Restaurant Association, of which Winslow is president and chief executive.

Winslow said the proposed minimum wage hike would hurt restaurant workers, who are likely to lose tips and overall wages when the lower rate for restaurant servers is phased out. Restaurant workers last year overturned a similar proposal in Maine, he said.

A group of employees represented by the Restaurant Workers of America rallied against the $12 minimum wage in May.

Michigan One Fair Wage is backed by national worker advocacy group Restaurant Opportunities Center, which donated $200,000 in January. As of April, the ballot committee had received about $1.1 million in contributions.

The same day Michigan Opportunity filed its challenge with the Bureau of Elections, Small Business for a Better Michigan filed challenges to a separate petition for a November ballot proposal that would require paid sick leave.

Small Business for a Better Michigan, a state coalition of job providers, alleged the petition from MI Time to Care was fraught with “fraud, duplicate signatures and unregistered voter.” Like Michigan Opportunity, the group claimed the initiative was funded by out-of-state donors.

The business group is challenging more than half of the signatures.

“Buying signatures with dark money has resulted in sloppy work and invalid signatures,” said Mike Johnston, a member of the coalition and the Michigan Manufacturers Association.

MI Time to Care’s ballot initiative would allow employees to earn an hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. The group filed its signatures with the Secretary of State on May 29. Copies of the signatures sampled by elections officials were released June 28, and challenges had to be submitted by Friday.

The group is confident of its signatures, according to MI Time to Care campaign manager Londell Thomas, who said “special interests” are responsible for the effort to disqualify the petition.

Thomas said the group will fight the challenges and “will continue to engage voters to ensure the nearly 2 million people without access to earned paid sick time will no longer have to choose between a paycheck and getting well.”