Opinion: Political games destroy public trust
In December 2017, the Pew Center for Research released its latest poll measuring citizens’ trust in government, showing 18 percent of Americans trust the government to do what is right—an all-time low. That compares to the same poll from 1958 when 75 percent of citizens trusted government.
Our country is clearly divided. Politicians whose stances place them on the opposite side of the majority of citizens is one thing, but politicians who manipulate the process of government to thwart the will of citizens is quite another. That type of manipulation leads citizens to believe the system is rigged, causing a downward spiral in trust of government.
In 2012, Michigan voters repealed the Emergency Manager law—only to have legislators pass another very similar Emergency Manager law, which was directly responsible for the Flint water crisis.
Today – again – Capitol observers and hundreds of thousands of petition signers fear legislators plan to obstruct the will of citizens in the upcoming “lame duck” session of the Legislature.
In the spring, the group “Michigan Time to Care” submitted more than 380,000 signatures for a petition to create an Earned Sick Time Act that would guarantee employees one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked. Around the same time, organizers with the “Michigan One Fair Wage” committee submitted 373,000 signatures to raise the hourly minimum wage to $12 by 2022. Both petitions garnered over 100,000 more signatures than required by law.
Both proposals were headed to the Nov. 6 ballot. However, the state constitution allows the Legislature to approve citizen initiatives and forgo a statewide vote. The Republican-controlled Legislature did just that—and supporters of both proposals saw their sudden approval as a cynical act to keep the measures from reaching the ballot and drawing more Democratic voters to the polls.
But it gets worse.
Not only did legislative leaders pass the proposals to keep them off the ballot, they now plan to weaken or gut those proposals in December.
After the Legislature passed the measures, term-limited House Speaker Tom Leonard stated, “I personally want to make sure the Legislature is still going to have a say,” even though the Legislature already had their say—pass it or put it on the ballot. Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekoff said he wanted to change the proposals to be “more acceptable to the business community.”
After the minimum wage increase and the earned sick time proposals became law, low-wage workers across the state celebrated—including thousands of education support professionals. Many school paraprofessionals, food service workers and bus drivers would benefit greatly from these changes. Not only would they have the right to earn sick time, the parents of sick students would as well, many of whom send those sick kids to school because they cannot afford to lose a day’s pay.
Providing earned sick time “would no longer make losing a day’s pay or a job as easy as catching a cold,” says Danielle Atkinson, chair of the MI Time to Care coalition. Raising the minimum wage would begin to close the ever-growing wage gap among Michigan workers.
Voters will be justifiably disgusted if they learn Republican lawmakers passed those measures only to snatch them off the ballot and gut them later. Manipulating the process to thwart the will of citizens only worsens distrust in government. The Legislature needs to listen to the voices of 750,000 voters who signed petitions and leave those laws in place.
Paula Herbart is president of the Michigan Education Association.
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.