Michigan's lawyers ask judge to delay enforcement of minimum wage hike

Craig Mauger
The Detroit News

Lansing — Attorneys for the state of Michigan asked a judge Wednesday to delay enforcement of a major ruling that could soon increase the minimum wage and institute new paid sick-leave requirements on businesses.

The filing from employees of Attorney General Dana Nessel's office says the state is appealing Tuesday's decision from Court of Claims Judge Douglas Shapiro and argues Shapiro should stop the decision from taking effect "pending the final disposition of all appeals."

"The people of the state deserve predictability and stability in the status of the law governing sick leave and the minimum wage," the state attorneys' motion said Wednesday. "For this reason, the state asks this court to grant the stay during the pendency of the appeal, so that it will be clear to all relevant stakeholders that they remain in a position of status quo until this question reaches final disposition on appeal."

Art Reyes of We The People leads a protest outside the Michigan Chamber of Commerce in Lansing on Dec. 3, 2018, over proposed changes to minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives.

Nessel, a Democrat, has touted Shapiro's ruling and has instituted a conflict wall between her and the attorneys arguing on the other side of the case.

On Tuesday, Shapiro, an appointee of former Democratic Gov. Jennifer Granholm, decided a pair of 2018 voter-initiated laws increasing the minimum wage and instituting paid sick-leave requirements for employers should take effect, saying Republican lawmakers' strategy to circumvent them violated the state constitution.

The ruling, which is expected to be challenged up to the state Supreme Court, potentially could increase Michigan's minimum wage from $9.87 an hour, where it stands currently, to $12 an hour.

Shapiro declared GOP-backed laws that altered the original initiatives and kept them off the ballot "voided." The original initiatives, which were the result of statewide petition campaigns, "remain in effect," Shapiro wrote.

But the lawyers for the state noted Wednesday the 2018 initiatives never took effect. Shapiro's judgment isn't enforceable until Aug. 9, they said. And they asked for a decision on staying the decision's impacts by Aug. 2.

There is a question, their filing said, about whether phased-in increases in the minimum wage, embedded in the Legislature's version of the law, would remain applicable or whether they would be "bypassed" and the "current minimum would take effect."

Mark Brewer, the attorney for the groups challenging the Legislature's handling of the 2018 proposals, said the organizations will "vigorously" oppose the motion for a stay.

Millions of workers, Brewer said, have been illegally denied a minimum wage increase and paid sick leave.

"They shouldn’t have to wait any longer," said Brewer, a former Michigan Democratic Party chairman and attorney at Goodman Acker P.C. in Southfield. "They have suffered enough."

In 2018, Michigan One Fair Wage circulated petitions to have voters consider a proposal to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022 from $9.25, at the time, and tie the rate to inflation.

That same year, Michigan Time to Care backed a proposal to generally require employers to provide paid sick time to their workers.

However, the GOP-controlled Legislature adopted the two initiatives before Election Day, preventing the measures from seeing statewide votes.

The moves allowed lawmakers to return after Election Day and change the laws with simple majorities. If voters had approved them, future changes would have required a three-fourths supermajority of support in both houses of the Michigan Legislature.

Republican lawmakers slowed the minimum wage increases, so the minimum wage would climb to $12.05 by 2030, eight years later than under the original proposal, and removed a connection to inflation for future increases.

In addition, the legislative version eliminated a provision that sought to increase the minimum wage for tipped workers so it would match the standard minimum wage in 2024. The current minimum wage for tipped workers is $3.75 an hour.

The lawmakers also altered the sick-leave law, exempting small businesses that collectively employed more than 1 million workers from a policy that initially would have applied to every company.

"The new laws, therefore, substantially amended the original laws proposed by the voters," Shapiro wrote Tuesday. "The process effectively thwarted the intent of the people and denied them the opportunity to vote on whether they preferred the voter-initiated proposal or the Legislature’s suggested modifications."

On Tuesday, Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association, said his organization is strongly encouraging higher courts to halt Shapiro's ruling "during the inevitable appeals process."

"If this were to be immediately implemented, the chaos it would wreak on the already battered hospitality industry during peak travel season would be almost inconceivable," Winslow said.

According to Michigan's lawyers, Nessel took "no position in response" to the motion for a stay.