Labor Voices: Respect voters, don’t adopt and amend
Last week, the Republican-led Legislature passed two citizen petition initiatives rather than allowing the measures to go to a vote of the people. The two proposals, one to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour and the other to require paid sick leave, will both greatly benefit the working families of Michigan.
The catch is Republican leadership has publicly discussed their desire to gut key portions of these bills after the November elections during the lame duck session. They can do that with a simple majority now rather than the super majority it would require if the voters had approved it in November. It is critically important that we reject this deceitful tactic by the Republican majority legislature and demand these proposals be left intact.
For decades, working people have been pushed aside as a handful of wealthy executives and investors pocketed billions for themselves. In the thirty years before the Great Recession only the top 1 percent of Michiganians saw rising incomes. In fact, the rich doubled their income during that time while wages for the rest of us stagnated or even dropped.
And things have only continued to get worse since then. Today, the top 1 percent of the state makes 22 times more than working people. Even as the wealth of a few has grown to unprecedented new heights the vast majority of us are being left behind.
The problem is even more severe for women and people of color as they continue to face devastating and unjust pay disparities. Working women in Michigan make only 74.6 cents on the dollar, lower than the national average and ranking among the worst in the Midwest. Meanwhile, workers of color make a full $3 dollars less per hour than their white colleagues.
Keeping this legislation intact without amending it is an opportunity to right this wrong by raising wages for everyone. What is more, this is a chance to make our economy work again. When working people have more dignities on the job and more money in their pockets everyone is better off.
The paid sick time initiative will allow working men and women to earn sick time that they can use to address personal and family health issues. It would allow working people the opportunity to take care of what is most important: their families. When we talk about protecting the things we need to sustain our families the ability to be with our sick children or aging parents is high on that list.
This is not about politics or ideology. It is about the common-sense idea that the best, most prosperous economies are always rooted in rising standards for working people. When we appropriately value work our families and communities thrive.
Wealthy corporate interests have used their influence over the Legislature to deny working people our voices at the ballot box on these issues. What these Republicans did is disrespectful to the citizens who signed petitions and to the working families who stand to benefit from these changes. The voters should reject these rotten tactics. We need legislators who want working people to succeed. We must demand that there be no eleventh-hour changes to the initiatives after the November election.
Whether you are a server in Downtown Detroit or a construction worker in the Upper Peninsula, Michiganians put blood, sweat and precious time into our jobs every single day. We deserve a fair wage and the ability to be there for our families.
Ron Bieber is president of Michigan AFL-CIO.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Gary Jones, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.