Protests Rise Over Changes to Voter-Approved Paid Sick Leave and Minimum Wage Policies in Michigan
By Kathleen Gray and Carol Thompson
Amidst a day of protests by hundreds of people across the Capitol on bills that change voter-approved ballot proposals and expand the authority of the Republican-controlled Legislature, the GOP voted to gut proposals to raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour and require employers to provide sick time for employees.
Protesters filled the rotunda of the Capitol to vent their frustration at Republican legislators who were passing bills that went counter to how the people voted on Nov. 6 . The changes are coming before the Democrats who won statewide offices up and down the ballot are sworn into office on Jan. 1.
"We voted for blue, not for you," the crowd chanted. "Hey, hey! Ho, Ho! Lame duck has got to go."
But it was the changes to the minimum wage and paid sick time proposals that caused the most consternation from the crowds. The proposals had been headed for the Nov. 6 ballot but the legislature voted on the measures before the election to keep them off the ballot. That allowed the legislature to amend the proposals after the election with a simple majority instead of a 3/4 majority.
Tracy Pease, a Hazel Park resident and waitress for the last 30 years, told the House Michigan Competitiveness Committee on Tuesday, "I started waitressing in 1989 and I was making $2.52 an hour. In the span of nearly 30 years, I've gotten a $1 raise ... You're not obligated to tip me, but you're obligated to listen to the 373,000 people who wanted this on the ballot."
The committee nevertheless sent the proposals to the full House, which approved the bills on votes of 60-48 with three Republicans -- Reps. Joe Bellino of Monroe, Martin Howrylak of Troy and Jeff Yaroch of Richmond -- joining all the Democrats in opposing the legislation. The Senate quickly concurred with the changes in the bills -- SB 1171 and 1175 -- on votes of 26-12 with Sen. Tory Rocca, R-Sterling Heights, joining all the Democrats in opposing the legislation.
Gov. Rick Snyder worked on the bills with the House and Senate, but has not said yet whether he will sign the bills.
"The governor and legislators have been discussing the proposals," said Snyder's spokesman, Ari Adler. "Whether or not he signs the bills remains to be seen based on his review of the final legislation."
On minimum wage, instead of raising it to $12 per hour by 2022, the bill raises it to $12.05 by 2030. And tipped workers such as bartenders and wait staff, who also were supposed to see a $12 hour wage more gradually by 2024, will see their wages only rise to $4.58 by 2030. If a tipped worker's tips don't reach $12.05, the employer is required to make up the difference.
The change from $12 to $12.05 was an attempt to make up for the fact that the new bill no longer ties hourly wages to the rate of inflation. The current $9.25 minimum wage, which was passed in 2014, ties the wage to the rate of inflation that would have ended up increasing the minimum wage to more than $12 by 2030.
Paid sick time, which was supposed to accrue to one hour for every 30 hours worked, or 72 hours per year, was cut to one hour for every 35 hours worked, or a maximum of 40 hours per year. And businesses with 50 or fewer employees were exempted from the paid sick time provisions. The ballot proposal would have exempted businesses with five or fewer employees.
A couple of hundred people crammed into three small rooms earlier in the day heckling the legislators and shouting "Shame, shame" after the House committee voted 6-3 along party lines -- with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposing -- to move the bills to the full House.
State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud, D-Dearborn, offered amendments that would make members of the Legislature and state officials abide by the same pay and sick leave rules in the two bills, but they were voted down.
"You've gutted the original language and usurped the will of the people," said Hammoud, graphically comparing the changes in the bills to how a fish is gutted.
Democrats also argued that former Attorney General Frank Kelley issued an opinion in 1964 that the Legislature couldn't adopt and amend a citizen-initiated proposal in the same legislative session.
But Attorney General Bill Schuette, who lost his bid for the governor's office on Nov. 6, offered a contradictory opinion Tuesday, saying, "The language of the Constitution and the subsequent decisions by Michigan courts cast doubt, however, on the validity of this conclusion ... Legislatively enacted initiated laws are subject to the same processes regarding amendment as legislation drafted by the Legislature. And since nothing in the Michigan Constitution prohibits the Legislature from amending legislation it drafts during the same legislative session in which it was enacted, it follows that the Legislature may do so as well with respect to an enacted initiated law."
Mark Totten, who ran for attorney general in 2014 and lost to Schuette, said on Twitter that the opinion, "flys (sic) in the face of common sense ... would allow legislature to endlessly frustrate right to initiative."
Sen. David Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, sponsored the minimum-wage bill and said that he doesn't believe in government-mandated wages.
"It should be decided by the marketplace and between management and employees," he said. "Michigan has one of the highest minimum wages compared to other Midwestern states."
The new bills have the support of the business community, which said the previous laws would have a devastating effect on businesses and would end up with higher prices for goods and people losing their jobs.
"This would be truly crippling to the restaurant and hospitality industry," which employs 600,000 people in Michigan, said Robert O'Meara, of the Michigan Restaurant Association. "Michigan would lose up to 20,000 restaurant jobs."
The changes were introduced two days after the election results were tallied and were among the first bills to be taken up in this lame-duck legislative session.
The Republicans in the Legislature want to make the changes before Jan. 1, when Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat, is sworn in and before the GOP majorities in both the Senate and House of Representatives shrink.
The votes on the minimum wage and paid sick leave came on a day when protesters flooded the Capitol on many bills. They went to committee rooms and heckled lawmakers as they made changes to the anti-gerrymandering ballot proposal that passed by a 61-39 percent margin on Nov. 6 and expanded the authority of the Legislature to intervene in any case brought against the state, even though that's the responsibility of the attorney general.
"I object to this hearing. It's un-American," hollered one protester during a hearing on the bill allowing the Legislature to intervene in cases.
State Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills comment -- "when we have roads to fix, schools to fund, how can you possibly justify setting up this parallel organization when we already have an attorney general in place?" -- got loud and sustained applause, Republicans quickly approved the bill and ended the committee hearing.
On the anti-gerrymandering proposal, speaker after speaker testified against the bill that would tinker with how the 13 members of the redistricting commission are selected.
"I got involved with Voters Not Politicians because I'm so upset that politics don't work anymore. This is you telling me that my efforts were for naught," said Jenny Hoffman, who came to Lansing from St. Ignace to voice her vehement opposition. "This is a power grab by you from people who just wanted to participate in the process. This lame duck stuff is for the birds and I'm insulted that you don't think we understand that."
The lame duck legislative session continues on Wednesday and is expect to last through either Dec. 13 or Dec. 20.
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