Mich. groups launch minimum wage, sick time campaigns

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau
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Lansing — Michigan groups seeking to raise the state’s minimum wage and require paid sick leave benefits for workers are launching petition drives in hopes of making the 2018 ballot.

The Board of State Canvassers on Tuesday approved for circulation a petition from the One Fair Michigan ballot committee that would raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022 for most workers and by 2024 for tipped employees.

Separately, the MI Time to Care ballot committee officially launched its own petition drive Tuesday for a proposal that would require businesses to provide workers with paid sick leave for use in case of physical or mental illness, injury or health conditions affecting themselves or a family member.

Business groups, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, oppose both efforts, warning that additional mandated wage increases or benefits would force employers to cut costs in other areas or consider layoffs.

Michigan’s $8.90-an-hour minimum wage is set to rise to $9.25 in 2018 and will then be tied to inflation under a law Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature approved in 2014 to avoid a $10.10-per-hour ballot proposal.

The new proposal, backed by the labor-related Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, would increase the rate to $10 in 2019, $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021 and $12 by 2022. Tipped employees like restaurant workers, set to earn a minimum hourly rate of $3.52 next year, would be guaranteed a $12 wage by 2024.

Donyetta Hill, a 35-year-old manufacturing worker and activist from Detroit who is backing the proposal, said she was fired from a fast food restaurant in 2014 during a strike over her then-$7.40 an hour wage.

She now earns $10 an hour, but $12 “would do a lot,” Hill said. “It would help me to maintain the bills that I do have, because right now it’s like pick-and-choose. I pay the rent every month, but the utilities is really hard.”

One Fair Wage chairwoman Alicia Farris told reporters the petition drive will begin as a “grassroots” effort, but the committee could eventually hire a signature collection firm if it raises enough money.

Michigan Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley said the proposed minimum wage and paid sick leave laws could mean less entry-level jobs for inexperienced residents and lead to increase automation in the workplace.

“Government mandated benefits are not free,” Studley said. “There’s a reason why if you visit McDonald’s today and order a coffee or soft drink, the person behind the counter will hand you a cup… and say, ‘It’s over there.’”

The minimum wage group plans to train volunteer circulators before sending them out in the field to collect signatures. It will need to collect at least 252,523 valid signatures to advance its proposal for an initiated law.

MI Time to Care will also need to collect more than 250,000 signatures in 180 days to put its paid sick leave proposal on the 2018 ballot after falling short on a similar effort for 2016.

The committee won Board of Canvassers petition approval last month and officially launched the campaign Tuesday with rallies in Detroit, Lansing, Kalamazoo, Flint and Traverse City.

Under the proposal, employees would usually 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.

Both groups are starting late in the year for petition drives in Michigan, where organizers typically try to gather as many signatures as possible in the summer before the cold winter sets in and makes outdoor circulation more difficult.


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