Snyder signs laws weakening minimum wage, paid sick leave initiatives

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder gives an exit interview to editorial board and reporters of The Detroit News in the Tony Snow conference room at the newspaper office in downtown Detroit on Friday, December 7, 2018.

Lansing — Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder on Friday signed controversial bills to weaken minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives that had been headed toward the Nov. 6 ballot before the Republican-led Legislature intervened.

Democratic minorities in the state House and Senate were unable to stop the GOP maneuver, which has no direct precedent and is likely to spur lawsuits.

Under the revised law, Michigan’s minimum wage will increase from $9.25 to $12.05 per hour by 2030, slowing the march to $12 by 2022 called for in the initiative. The minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers will rise to $4.58 by 2030 instead of $12 by 2024.

The paid sick leave law will exempt more than 160,000 small businesses that collectively employ more than 1 million workers from a mandate that would have otherwise applied to every company in the state.

“I look at legislation presented to me through a policy lens — is it the right policy for the state of Michigan and Michiganders as a whole? That’s what I did with these bills and have now signed them into law,” Snyder said in a statement. “I looked at what the potential impacts and benefits of the changes would be and decided that signing these bills was the appropriate action.”

The term-limited Ann Arbor Republican, who will be replaced by Democratic Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer on Jan. 1, had not publicly stated whether he was going to sign the measures. But he was widely expected to do so after the House agreed to his recommendations and scaled back even more aggressive cuts the Senate had made to the initiatives.

GOP lawmakers adopted the initiatives in September to keep them off the ballot and make them easier to amend, arguing the proposals could hurt the business community, which heavily lobbied for the changes.

State Rep. Christine Greig, a Farmington Hills Democrat who will become state House minority leader next year, blasted Snyder for signing the bills, which she said “rob” people of wage and benefit guarantees.

“It is shameful that this governor, who is just counting down the days to the end of his tenure, would use this opportunity to hurt the people of Michigan one last time,” Greig said. “It is clear, this deliberate action to subvert the will of the people ensures that the governor’s legacy will be one of abject failure.”

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said that “if it wasn’t clear before, it should be clear now that this governor has zero respect for the voters.”

“I’m gravely disappointed yet not surprised to see this governor once again sign legislation drafted and motivated by the extreme wing of his party,” Ananich said. “It appears that he has decided what he wants his legacy to be.”

But Snyder argued the bills he signed “strike a good balance” between the initial proposals and more aggressive legislation initially approved by the Senate. The new laws address “a number of difficulties for job providers” while still ensuring a minimum wage and sick leave benefits “for many Michiganders,” he said.

The business community has argued that increasing the state's minimum wage 30 percent over three years would burden employers, leading them to hire fewer workers or replace existing workers with technology to remain in business.

The paid sick leave law will require companies with 50 or more employees to give them up to 40 hours of paid sick leave a year, less than the 72 hours envisioned in the initiative. Employees can accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 35 hours worked instead of every 30 hours worked.

The new minimum wage rules eliminate an existing mechanism designed to allow the state’s rate to rise with inflation in future years. It also cuts wage parity for tipped workers proposed in the initiative, which the restaurant lobby and some employees had battled.  

Rich Studley, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, celebrated Snyder’s signature and thanked lawmakers for amending the initiatives.

“Without these changes, these laws as adopted would have had a negative impact on employee/employer relations and would have taken an economic wrecking ball to Michigan’s overall competitiveness,” Studley said.

Changes to the paid sick leave initiative make it “workable” and more in line with 10 other states that have mandatory laws, said Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy for the Michigan Chamber.  

The minimum wage initiative would have made Michigan’s rate one of the highest in the country, Block said, “making our state uncompetitive in the race for jobs and forcing many employers to make tough decisions, including cutting back staffing hours, increasing costs and reducing other investments in employees or their business.”

Michigan lawmakers had never adopted citizen-initiated legislation only to amend it during the same two-year session, prompting questions over the legality of the GOP action.

Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette gave his legal blessing, telling lawmakers that the Michigan Constitution does not prohibit the move. Schuette reversed a 1964 legal opinion from then-Attorney General Frank Kelly, a Democrat, who said adopting and amending an initiative in the same session would violate the “the spirit and letter” of the initiative process.

MI Time to Care, the group behind the paid sick leave initiative, has said it is prepared to take legal action and could mount another petition drive to put the measure on the ballot in 2020.

"In other states, real leaders have sat down with groups such as ours to craft good policy that benefit workers and business," said Danielle Atkinson, co-chair of the paid sick leave ballot committee. "Gov. Snyder and Michigan’s partisan legislative leaders refused to do that, and instead simply ripped paid sick time away from people who need it most.”

Michigan One Fair Wage, the group behind the $12 minimum wage, also hinted at legal action.

The amended minimum wage law "is blatantly unconstitutional and will lead to costly, time-consuming court challenges," said the group's steering committee chairwoman, Alicia Renee Farris. "... This is far from over. We will be continuing to fight to uphold the Constitution and for One Fair Wage to uplift over a million Michiganders and allow everyone the right to work full-time and feed their families.”  

The GOP-led House this week approved a controversial bill that would make petition drives more difficult by capping the number of signatures that could be gathered in any single congressional district.