'Zero Respect for the Voters': Michigan Governor Signs Bills That Water Down Minimum Wage, Sick Leave Laws
By Paul Egan
Gov. Rick Snyder signed bills Friday to water down voter-initiated increases to the state minimum wage and employer-paid sick time, pleasing the business community but dashing hopes among many Michiganders that he would veto the lame-duck bills.
Snyder's signatures cap an unprecedented maneuver by the GOP-controlled Legislature, in which it adopted voter-initiated bills to keep them off the Nov. 6 ballot, fully intending to water down those measures during the lame-duck session before the changes could take effect.
Snyder said the initial proposals "were well-intentioned but would have resulted in cost and compliance burdens for job providers that could have negatively impacted employment in Michigan."
Those who collected hundreds of thousands of signatures to bring the sick pay bill to the Legislature pledged to get to work on a new petition drive, while those who backed the minimum-wage proposal strongly suggested they would challenge the bills in court. Criticism from liberal groups and those who helped gather petitions to initiate the bills was swift and harsh.
Progress Michigan issued a statement that said Snyder was "nothing but a corporate puppet" for donors such as the conservative west Michigan DeVos family and the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
"Michigan deserves better than the lack of leadership displayed by Snyder," said Lonnie Scott, the group's executive director.
The proposals had been headed for the ballot after proponents gathered the required signatures, 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 three-quarters majority.
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-an-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.
Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, thanked lawmakers for amending the voter-initiated bills and Snyder for signing them.
"Without these changes, these laws as adopted would have had a negative impact on employee/employer relations and would have taken an economic wrecking ball to Michigan's overall competitiveness," Studley said in a news release.
Former Democratic Attorney General Frank Kelley and current Republican Attorney General Bill Schuette have issued conflicting opinions on whether the Legislature can amend a voter-initiated law in the same term they adopt it, with Kelley saying no and Schuette saying yes. A legal challenge to the bills Snyder signed remains a possibility.
Snyder said in a news release he assesses legislation based on whether it is "the right policy for the state of Michigan and Michiganders as a whole."
"That's what I did with these bills and have now signed them into law," Snyder said. "I looked at what the potential impacts and benefits of the changes would be and decided that signing these bills was the appropriate action."
Alicia Renee Farris, chairwoman of the Michigan One Fair Wage steering committee that backed the minimum-wage measure, said the bill Snyder signed to water it down is "blatantly unconstitutional and will lead to costly, time-consuming court challenges."
Backers of the sick time bill said they planned to get to work almost immediately to put the proposal on the 2020 ballot.
Danielle Atkinson, cochair of the MI Time to Care coalition that collected more than 380,000 signatures to put the measure before lawmakers. said the bill Snyder signed "can't even claim to be a "sick time" law, as hundreds of thousands of Michiganders are simply cut out," and workers who are still included "are left with a policy that is meaningless and unenforceable" because of loopholes such as exemptions for employers who have a paid-time off policy, even if it doesn't specifically address sick time.
Atkinson's group said nearly 40 percent of Michigan workers are excluded from the sick pay law because they work for companies with fewer than 50 employees.
Snyder noted the improvements in the state's economy and unemployment rate in the last several years and said the watered-down version of the legislation is needed to maintain "our forward momentum."
He said the leave bill offers most workers paid medical leave up to a week off work with pay. "We are now one of only 11 states that provide such a benefit," he said.
The minimum-wage bill "helps keep us in the top third of states nationally," Snyder said.
House Minority Floor Leader Rep. Christine Greig, D-Farmington Hills, called Snyder's signature a "deliberate action to subvert the will of the people" that will damage his legacy.
"With a flick of his lame-duck pen, Gov. Snyder chose to rob the people of Michigan of the strong paycheck and good benefits they deserve," she said.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said by signing the bills, Snyder showed he has "zero respect for the voters."
DeWayne Wells, executive director of the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan, said citizens "were very clear in November that they want Michigan to grow in a way that benefits them, not just the special interests."
"In pulling this bait and switch during lame duck, politicians in Lansing did the exact opposite and it won't be forgotten," he said."We need to continue our forward momentum while making sure all Michiganders are participating in the comeback,"
(c)2018 the Detroit Free Press