Paid sick time petition back before Michigan board
Lansing – A reconstituted Michigan group is preparing a statewide petition drive for a proposal that would require businesses to provide employees with paid sick leave, aiming to make the 2018 ballot after failing to do so for 2016.
The Michigan Board of State Canvassers on Thursday will consider the form of a petition submitted by MI Time to Care seeking to create the Earned Sick Time Act, a proposal prominent business groups oppose and are expected to fight.
If approved, “we’ll get the petitions printed” and begin collecting signatures “in the very near future,” said Danielle Atkinson of Royal Oak, founding director of the Mothering Justice activist group.
Atkinson declined to disclose how much money the committee intends to raise or whether it will use paid circulators. But she said coalition partners will be announced at a later date and “we’ll definitely have the resources when we start our campaign.”
The potential ballot proposal would require Michigan businesses to provide workers with paid sick leave they could use in case of physical or mental illness, injury or health conditions affecting themselves or a family member. Time off also could be used by victims of domestic violence and parents attending school meetings.
“We know that this is an issue that is important for working families,” said Atkinson. “Everybody gets sick, but not everybody has time to get well. Unfortunately, women, people of color and low-income workers are disproportionally affected by not having access to earned sick time.”
Under the proposal, employees would generally accrue one hour of paid sick time for each 30 hours they work. At a small business, an employee could generally use 40 hours of paid leave in a single year and up to 32 additional hours of unpaid sick time. At a larger company, employees could use up to 72 hours in accrued sick time each year.
The Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the state chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business have criticized previous versions of the proposal and have already spoken out about the pending petition drive.
Chamber lobbyist Wendy Block called it a “one-size-fits-all” mandate that could hurt businesses, especially those in the tourism, hospitality and retail industries with higher turnover and less ability to handle the associated costs.
“While nearly every company we speak to would like to offer paid sick leave to their employees, many simply cannot afford to do so, and it’s the primary reason they do not do so today,” she said.
Block noted labor-related groups who have pushed the paid sick time proposal also have been linked to a separate pending minimum wage petition, which has not yet gone before the Board of State Canvassers and is not on Thursday’s agenda.
Requiring business to provide employees with paid sick time could force them to make other “tough decisions,” she said. “It would mean fewer raises, fewer bonuses, reduced hours or even layoffs, because the cost of a proposal like this is real – especially if you’re combining this with a $12 minimum wage.”
As of February, seven other states had paid sick leave laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Voters in Massachusetts approved a ballot proposal in 2014, and voters in Arizona and Washington did the same last year.
The Raise Michigan committee developed similar paid sick time petitions in 2015 and 2016. That group is “supportive” of the new effort and many of the same people are involved, according to Atkinson, but she declined to say whether previously raised funds would be transferred to the new MI Time to Care committee.
Campaign finance records show Raise Michigan had pulled in $152,150 through July 20, primarily from two sources. The United Auto Workers’ Community Action Program Council gave $125,000 to the committee May 9. A day earlier, the union-affiliated Restaurant Opportunities Center of New York contributed $27,000.
Once it begins circulating petitions, the MI Time to Care committee would have 180 days to collect at least 252,523 valid signatures to advance its proposal for an initiated law. The state Legislature would have 40 days to adopt the measure or allow it to go to the statewide ballot in November 2018.
Michigan’s Republican-led Legislature is unlikely to take up the measure after approving a 2015 law that prohibits local units of government from requiring employers to provide certain benefits, including leave time.
While Michigan petition organizers typically like to collect signatures during the warmer summer months, the paid sick time group could end up with petitions in the field through February if it launches this month.
“We just want to make sure when we start the campaign … we have everything in line and ready to deliver a victory for working families,” Atkinson said.