Michigan Republicans vote to weaken wage, sick leave initiatives
Chanting 'lame duck' protesters jam the rotunda of the state Capitol. Dale G. Young, The Detroit News
Lansing — Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature on Tuesday finalized plans to weaken minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives, sending the legislation to GOP Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk for consideration over Democrats' objections.
Snyder has not publicly vouched for the bills but was part of negotiations to revise the legislation, which would raise Michigan’s minimum wage from $9.25 to to $12.05 by 2030 and require companies with more than 50 employees to offer employees up to 40 hours of paid sick time a year.
The lame-duck bills are more generous than a version approved last week by Senate Republicans but still make major cuts to petition drive initiatives lawmakers adopted in order to keep them off the Nov. 6 ballot and make them easier to change. The initiatives would have raised the minimum wage to $12 by 2022 and guaranteed up to 72 hours of earned sick time a year for workers at companies of all sizes.
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof expects Snyder to sign the bills because the governor “said so,” the West Olive Republican told reporters after the vote.
Democrats blasted the bills, downplaying changes made Tuesday and arguing the Republican maneuvers undermine the will of hundreds of thousands of voters that signed petitions to send the initiatives to the Legislature.
“The only difference in what we voted on is basically 5 more cents over 12 years — that is really ridiculous,” said Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, referencing a Senate plan that would have raised the minimum wage to $12 per hour. “They gutted the minimum wage. They gutted the sick time bill.”
The state House approved the modified legislation in a series of 60-48 votes. The Senate signed off on the changes 26-12.
Three Republicans voted against the legislation in the state House: Rep. Martin Howrylak of Troy, Rep. Joe Bellino of Monroe and Rep. Jeff Yaroch of Richmond. Sen. Tory Rocca of Sterling Heights was the lone GOP “no” vote in the upper chamber.
Republicans defended their changes to the paid sick leave and minimum wage initiatives, which were recommended by powerful business groups. Both initiatives would have harmed the companies that employed people seeking the change, said Rep. Mary White of Casco Township.
"No worker is going to benefit from paid leave or higher minimum wage if they don’t have a job," Whiteford said in a floor speech before the House vote.
Rep. Erika Geiss, a Democrat, said the legislation was unconstitutional and would effectively silence the voices of those who signed the petition.
"What this House is about to do is indefensible," Geiss said.
The GOP legislation would increase minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers to $4.58 by 2030 instead of also gradually raising that rate to $12, a provision that sparked intense debate over whether paying restaurant employees more would discourage customers from tipping in the future.
The changes were met with opposition Tuesday morning from the One Fair Wage ballot committee that collected signatures for the initial petition, including Tracy Pease, a 30-year restaurant worker.
“No one is obligated to tip me, but I’m going to tell you what you are obligated to do,” Pease said. “You’re obligated to go ahead and listen to the 373,000 people who went ahead and said put this on the ballot.”
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce called the paid sick leave initiative “the most extreme mandate in the nation” and urged legislators to take swift action to scale back both proposals and allow employers time to adjust policies in conjunction with the law.
“You need to get this done now,” said Wendy Bock, vice president of business advocacy for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
Snyder met early Tuesday to discuss the bills with Meekhof and House Speaker Tom Leonard. But “whether or not he signs the bills remains to be seen based on his review of the final legislation,” spokesman Ari Adler said Tuesday evening.
The Senate sent the bills to Snyder at 7:25 p.m., capping a long and dramatic day at the Michigan Capitol. The building was flooded by protesters and temporarily evacuated in the afternoon when a suspicious package was found in a mailbox across the street, prompting a bomb squad investigation of what turned out to be an innocuous backpack.
"Hey hey, ho ho, lame duck has got to go,” protesters chanted in the Capitol rotunda, some of their calls audible on the House floor as term-limited lawmakers delivered their farewell speeches. “This is what democracy looks like.”
Critics from outside the Capitol also weighed in on GOP changes to the minimum wage and paid sick leave laws, which are an “insult to Michigan workers and families,” U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, said on Twitter.
Michigan lawmakers have never adopted citizen-initiated legislation and amended it during the same two-year session, prompting questions over the legality of the GOP maneuver.
But Attorney General Bill Schuette, a term-limited Republican who ran for governor this year but lost to Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, gave his legal blessing in a Monday opinion, telling lawmakers the Michigan Constitution does not prohibit the moves.
Schuette reversed a 1964 opinion from Democratic Attorney General Frank Kelley, but an attorney for the minimum wage and paid sick leave laws said Schuette’s formal opinion will not discourage potential lawsuits.
"MI Time To Care is prepared to take legal action to protect Michigan’s sick time law and start collecting signatures to ensure voters will ultimately decide this issue in 2020," the group said late Tuesday. "The coalition of Michigan volunteers will also ensure that Michigan voters know the names of each lawmaker who voted to require sick workers to go to work, and prevent parents from staying home with sick children, or face losing a paycheck."
The revised paid sick leave legislation would not apply to employers with fewer than 50 employees and includes several other exemptions that ballot campaign organizers argue undermine the intent of their initiative.
As of 2015, 162,003 Michigan companies had 49 or fewer employees, according to the most recent data available from the U.S. Census Bureau. Those firms, which include self-employed owners who would already be exempt under the initiated law, had a combined 1,004,987 workers and annual payrolls totaling $38.9 billion.
Under changes adopted Tuesday, qualifying workers would accrue 1 hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked, less than the one hour accrued for every 30 hours worked in the original initiative. Unlike the Senate plan approved last week, workers would not have to wait one year to begin accruing paid sick leave.
Employees would have three days to provide proof of their sickness, such as a doctor’s note, to an employer.
Michigan’s current minimum wage is $9.25 an hour, the 15th highest in the country, and the tipped wage is at $3.52. A 2014 law signed by Snyder included a mechanism to raise the rate based on inflation, a provision the new legislation would strip.