Labor Voices: Legislature is ditching workers
Republicans in Lansing lost their full grip on state government last month. And now hardworking Michiganians are paying the price.
Lawmakers, taking advantage of the last days of their stranglehold on the state capital during a lame duck legislative session last week, decided to hammer unions and low-income workers struggling to support their families. It’s the final power play by callous elected officials being shown the door.
Legislation that would bar public sector employees from engaging in collective bargaining during paid work hours would require negotiations to be held during nighttime or weekend hours, even though employers and workers agreed to the current setup.
The measure, offered by state Sen. Marty Knollenberg, R-Troy, is the last-ditch effort by a longtime anti-union legislator who was voted out of office in November. Efforts to curb union release time, as it is known, are just another cheap shot at weakening unions.
Meanwhile, in even more devastating news, GOP lawmakers decided to usurp the will of the people by approving two bills that curb citizen-initiated efforts to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour and require employers to offer paid sick leave to their workers.
The move is particularly galling because it was Republicans who rushed to implement legislation in September to avoid having the public vote on the issues on the November ballot. The Legislature approved measures that raised Michigan’s minimum wage from $9.25 an hour to $12 by 2022 for most workers and by 2024 for tipped restaurant employees. The paid sick leave law, meanwhile, mandated employers provide up to 72 hours a year of earned sick leave and provide legal protections for workers who took their earned time.
Under the changes pushed by the GOP, the $12 minimum wage won’t be implemented until 2030 for most workers, and never for tipped employees. They will be capped at $4 an hour, up just 48 cents from what they earn now. Similarly, the paid sick day requirement would be slashed to four days a year, plus one hour of additional sick time for every 40 hours worked.
These moves to revise the minimum wage and sick days in the state mark the worst in politics. First, there is a real question about whether they are even legal. While Michigan lawmakers have 40 days to take state initiatives and make them state law, such a mechanism is not meant to be used as a legislative ploy to circumvent the ballot measure process.
It is clear Republican legislators approved these two bills earlier this year and included language that they wouldn’t go into effect until next March all as part of a ploy to then come back during the lame duck session and water them down, working people be damned. Their actions are so outrageous that they might even violate the Michigan Constitution!
All this devious dealing, however, only ends up hurting the people elected officials are supposed to serve, their constituents. Instead, the Republican majority in Lansing decided to give a final thank you to the corporate cronies who fill their campaign coffers.
These actions are beyond shameful. We demand that a new slate of state lawmakers, led by incoming Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, do all they can to fix it.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
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.