POLITICS

Outgoing Michigan GOP Governor Signs Bills Gutting Minimum Wage Hike, Paid Sick Leave

Gov. Rick Snyder's signature on the bills is part of a wider push by conservatives to tamp down growing demand for fair wages and real paid sick leave.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation passed by a lame-duck GOP state Legislature.
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed legislation passed by a lame-duck GOP state Legislature.

Outgoing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) on Friday signed off on legislation gutting paid sick leave and minimum wage provisions in the state, the culmination of his party’s strategy to keep the popular measures off the ballot last month.

Passed by a lame-duck GOP state Legislature, the bills are meant to replace stronger measures that hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters had pushed for in a grassroots effort this fall. The new laws provide mainly a cosmetic lift to the wage floor and a gutted paid sick leave measure that leaves out an estimated 55 percent of the state’s workers. 

In a statement on Friday, Snyder said that the original ballot proposals were well-intentioned but would have resulted in “burdens for employers.”

He touted both bills as a win for Michigan workers. 

“I look at legislation presented to me through a policy lens ― is it 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.

The idea that this legislation will help the state’s working men and women is “Orwellian,” said Peter Ruark, senior policy analyst at the Michigan League for Public Policy, which backed the original ballot measures. “We are extremely disappointed the governor did this,” he told HuffPost on Friday. “We hoped that he would end his eight years as governor by standing up for working people.”

Republican lawmakers in Michigan are also considering a host of other measures meant to kneecap the incoming administration ― the newly elected governor, attorney general and secretary of state are all Democratic women ― including ones weakening unions and relaxing environmental regulations.

Activists had garnered a total of 800,000 signatures on two petitions seeking to put meaningful paid sick leave and a strong minimum wage hike on the ballot in November. Instead, they were thwarted by GOP legislators in September.

The lawmakers initially adopted the proposal and passed it into law. But they made it clear at the time that they planned to amend and gut the measures after the election.

And that’s what happened. The ballot measure, called One Fair Wage, sought to raise the minimum wage from $9.25 to $12 by 2022. It would have also eliminated the tipped minimum wage, raising it to $12 an hour by 2024, from the current $3.52. 

The version of the bill Snyder signed delays raising the minimum wage to $12.05 an hour until 2030. That means the minimum wage will go up 23 cents each year. The tipped minimum wage will stay put.

Similarly, the paid sick time bill Snyder signed is threaded with holes that leave many part-time workers and family members out in the cold. The ballot measure would have provided for guaranteed paid time off for sick workers and those who need time to care for ailing family members, including domestic partners. Both full-time and part-time workers would have been able to earn paid time off ― one hour earned for every 30 worked.

The version of the measure that was signed makes it more difficult for part-time workers to get coverage, eliminates domestic partners and caps the amount of paid sick time a worker can earn at the lowest level in the nation, according to an analysis done by Danielle Atkinson, the founding director of Mothering Justice, a local activist group that fought to get the measures on the state’s November ballot.

Worse, it allows employers to require advance notice for sick leave. That isn’t ideal if your child’s school calls in the middle of the day because he’s just broken his arm, or if you get sick suddenly.

The sick leave bill excludes 55 percent of Michigan’s workers, according to 
Ruark
.

The Time to Care Initiative, which was behind the sick leave proposal, is considering a lawsuit over the constitutionality of the GOP’s strategy.

Atkinson said she and her group are hardly giving up and will fight for a new ballot measure in 2020. She said there’s growing unease with how state lawmakers handled this whole affair.

“We know we have more people interested in helping us,” she said.

The Michigan GOP’s moves to keep voters from getting to decide on wage and sick leave measures is part of a nationwide push by conservatives to tamp down growing demand for fair wages and real paid sick leave. The U.S. is the only developed economy in the world that provides no guaranteed paid time off for workers who are ill.

“This is a vicious attack on democracy,” said Ellen Bravo, director of Family Values @ Work, a paid sick and family leave advocacy group. “Exactly what democracy does not look like.”

CONVERSATIONS