Business group appeals minimum wage plan to Michigan Supreme Court

The Detroit News
The Michigan Supreme Court.

Lansing — A business group is appealing to Michigan's highest court to overturn a state Court of Appeals panel's order to place a proposed minimum wage increase on the November ballot.

The group Michigan Opportunity on Thursday asked the seven justices for an expedited appeal as the Board of State Canvassers prepared for a Friday meeting where it had been expected to put the proposal for a $12-an-hour minimum wage on the November ballot.

On Wednesday, a three-judge appeals panel dismissed the lawsuit brought by Michigan Opportunity that argued the minimum wage petition sidestepped the state Constitution and improperly capitalized words, among other issues.

The group requested the court accept the case and make a decision by Aug. 31. The state needs to meet a Sept. 7 deadline to finalize ballots for the Nov. 6 election. 

The ballot proposal would raise Michigan’s $9.25 minimum wage 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. It would also phase out by 2024 the lower wage rate for restaurant servers and other employees who receive tips.

In a 2-1 decision, state appeals court Judges Stephen Borrello and Jane Beckering ruled the proposal does not violate any constitutional requirements and concluded that challenges to the petition form should not preclude certification by the Board of State Canvassers. They ordered the canvassers board to "take any necessary measures" to put the proposal on the November ballot.

But Michigan Opportunity, whose spokesman Justin Winslow is president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant Association, took conciliation from Court of Appeals Judge Michael Riordan's dissent. He wrote that petition signers violated state law by checking both "township" and "city" boxes on some forms.

A "safe harbor" provision in state law "does not protect such errors, and extending it to do so is tantamount to adding language to the statute that the Legislature saw fit to leave out," Riordan wrote in the dissent. 

Opponents argued the measure constituted an amendment to existing minimum wage laws, which would require petitioners to print in full the areas of law that would be affected by the proposal instead of just referencing the title of the law.

The One Fair Wage ballot committee submitted an estimated 283,544 valid signatures to the state in May. The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked 2-2 in late July while debating whether to certify the signatures for the minimum wage petition.

Mark Brewer, an attorney for the One Fair Wage committee and former chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party, had called the Court of Appeals' decision a victory for the “hundreds of thousands of people who signed the petition” and an opportunity to "let democracy have a voice rather than trying to stop it in court.”

The Supreme Court could accept the case and order the parties file arguments for expedited consideration or reject Michigan Opportunity's request.

If certified for the ballot, the minimum wage measure would join others seeking to create an independent redistricting commission, legalize recreational marijuana and require that business provide employees with paid sick leave. Another proposal awaiting certification would allow for no-reason absentee voting and other election changes.