Michigan state Senate Republicans voted to scale back minimum wage and paid sick leave laws, S.B. 1171 and 1175 last Wednesday. The bills now move to the state House of Representatives, while critics on the left mobilize to protest these and other Republican-sponsored bills during the lame-duck session.
The original initiatives, which would have raised the minimum wage to $12 by 2022, were supposed to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot. Instead, the state Senate adopted the proposal in September, which many Democrats worried was a maneuver to alter the bill after the election. Sociology lecturer Ian Robinson, president of the Lecturers’ Employee Organization, said because amending a ballot proposal would require a three-quarter majority in both houses, adopting the proposal made it easier for Senate Republicans to alter the bills.
“If they passed it in full — took it off the ballot initiative — they could then modify it at a later date with a simple majority just like any other law that’s passed,” Robinson said. “So this kind of enabled them to do it, then they rushed to do it during lame duck because this is the last period of time they have before Gov. Whitmer will take over, and she would without a doubt veto any efforts to change this minimum wage law.”
After the changes, S.B. 1711 raises the minimum wage to $12 by 2030 instead of 2022. It also raises the tipped minimum wage to $4 instead of merging it with the standard $12 minimum wage. Because the ballot proposal received enough signatures to appear on the Nov. 6 ballot, Wallace Hopp, a professor of business and engineering, said he was taken aback by the Senate Republicans’ changes to the initiatives.
“I’m shocked with the boldness with which the legislature has overturned what apparently is the public will,” Hopp said. “They passed these laws basically to prevent them from going on the ballot, then immediately after the election amended them.”
Hopp said though increasing the minimum wage would cause some decrease in jobs, he thinks the benefits from a higher minimum wage would more than offset the drawbacks.
“The big issue of income inequality in which we’ve seen the upper tier of the income distribution gain hugely over the past decade, while the bottom has stagnated,” Hopp said. “These minimum wage increases do bring up the bottom of the distribution, and so I think we’re losing a significant opportunity to get more people to a living wage in the state of Michigan, and what we’re getting in return is a very tiny boost in employment.”
Maria Ibarra-Frayre, the Southeastern Michigan Regional Organizer for We the People Michigan, has been educating citizens on the lame duck session and the bills state Republicans are trying to pass. Ibarra-Frayre said the legislature’s cuts to minimum wage increases will harm working families, many of whom have been told their source of economic difficulties is caused by other disadvantaged groups.
“I think this is hurting a lot of working families, who have been struggling for years, who have been fed this narrative that the reason why they’re struggling is because some other marginalized community is to blame,” Ibarra-Frayre said.
LSA junior Austin McIntosh, communications chair for the University’s chapter of the College Republicans, said he does not think the government should mandate how businesses pay their employees at all.
“I don’t believe in the minimum wage,” McIntosh said. “I don’t believe that there’s any unfair wage in the United States because nobody forces you to take the job.”
Along with his libertarian principles, McIntosh also opposes a minimum wage increase because a higher minimum wage can compel employers to hire fewer employees and increase employment of workers with higher skills.
“Another thing is half of the people that get minimum wage are teenagers or young adults living with their parents,” McIntosh said. “Historically, when we raise the minimum wage, we put those people out of work because businesses start to hire more adults, more older people.”
Though Hopp recognizes the opposition by some business owners to higher labor costs, he said now would be an opportune time to raise the minimum wage.
“I’m sure that big employers like it at the margin, it’s less costly for sure,” Hopp said. “On the other hand, we’ve seen 10 years of economic growth, we have a very, very low unemployment. If we were going to do this kind of thing, now would have been the time to do it.”
After the changes, S.B. 1175 allows workers to have one hour of paid sick leave per 40 hours of work instead of per 30 hours of work. Similar to his view on minimum wage laws, McIntosh does not believe the government should decide how many hours of paid sick leave businesses should provide their employees.
“If a company wants to offer sick leave, yeah, why not?” McIntosh said. “But I don’t think the government has to mandate it.”
In addition to benefiting the sick employee, Ibarra-Frayre said offering an adequate amount of paid sick leave hours is essential to maintaining healthy workplaces.
“In reality, who wants to have a sick employee come to their place of work and then get everyone else sick?” Ibarra-Frayre said. “If you working at a restaurant and you’re there, that’s a liability for everyone which can be so much more expensive than actually having an employee who’s healthy, who is paid enough, who is happy to be there.”