On Wednesday, Michigan state Senate Republicans voted 26 to 12 to roll back minimum wage and paid sick leave laws that had been initiated by citizens in the form of petitions. This vote came amid criticism from state Senate Democrats over Republicans’ lame-duck maneuvers.
The state Senate adopted these citizen-initiated laws in September, preventing the laws from appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot and making them easier to amend. This caused concern among some Michigan residents and members of the state Senate.
The amendments to the minimum wage law would slow the increase from $9.25 to $12 per hour. This would also push the deadline back to 2030 instead of the planned 2022, and would also cap the minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers at $4 per hour instead of raising it to $12.
Revisions to the paid sick leave law would exempt companies with less than 50 employees and cut the minimum hours employers would be required to provide from 72 hours to 36 hours, a decrease of 1.5 days. Another change to this law would slow the benefit accrual, mandating employees must work 40 hours to earn an hour of medical leave instead of 30 hours.
Business groups have urged this type of change, which would not take effect until the spring. Charlie Owens, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses, told The Detroit News the paid sick leave initiative would create “great difficulty” for both employers and employees through employer costs for the mandates. “Workers will see cuts in pay, health insurance, retirement and other benefits, even including better sick leave policies in order to absorb the mandated costs,” Owens told The Detroit News. “Some employees will get the ultimate benefit cut: Their jobs.”
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, responded these revisions do not come close to the initiatives brought forth by nearly 400,000 citizens who voted in Michigan. Activist Danielle Atkinson, who helped galvanize the MI Time to Care campaign, told lawmakers the voters who signed the petition “were not confused.”
“They knew exactly what they were signing,” Atkinson said. “They knew exactly what they wanted. And when they were signing, they told us their stories of their own chronic illnesses, of sitting with their sick child in the hospital.”
Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, defended the legislative process that amended the petitions, telling The Detroit News that business owners and other citizens pushed for changes as well.
“The voters know when they sign a petition that it comes before the legislature before anything happens to it,” Meekhof said.
Ananich suggested to The Detroit News the state Senate Republicans aimed to modify laws before Democrat Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer assumes her position in January.
“I think one of the most troubling things is they dropped the bills the day after the election,” Ananich said. “So obviously they had these bills in the works all summer long and didn’t have the courage to show the voters what they were planning on doing.”