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Biz-Backed Groups Challenge Paid Sick Leave, Minimum Wage Proposals

July 17, 2018

The paid sick leave and minimum wage increase ballot initiatives both drew challenges Friday from business-backed groups trying to keep the questions from going before voters.

Michigan Opportunity, a ballot question committee affiliated with the Michigan Restaurant Association, filed a complaint in the Court of Appeals asking it to rule the Michigan One Fair Wage Petition ineligible for the ballot because it “unlawfully seeks to amend the current law by reference and without re-enactment and publication of that law as required.” 

The group also filed a challenge to that petition’s form and signatures with the State Board of Canvassers.

Later in the day, a coalition of business groups filed a challenge against the mandatory paid sick time ballot initiative, known as MI Time To Care, to the state Elections Bureau. 

The complaint alleges that a review of the signatures submitted on the petition forms “showed massive problems including fraud, duplicate signatures and unregistered voters.”

The challenge to the paid sick leave proposal was made by Small Business for a Better Michigan, a coalition of business groups including National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), the Small Business Association of Michigan, Michigan Manufacturers Association, Michigan Restaurant Association, Home Builders Association of Michigan, and Michigan Retailers Association. 

On the challenge to the minimum wage proposal, Justin Winslow, spokesperson for Michigan Opportunity, contended that the way the petition was written, “is a pretty clear violation of the constitution.” 

He said the wording was written in such a way that those who signed the petition could not have understood what changes were being made to the law. 

“Ninety-nine percent of the verbiage between the two laws is identical. When you just change the title of the act by adding the word ‘improved,’ I mean that’s just lazy drafting to me,” Winslow said. “So, we are arguing that this is clearly not a new law, as they would claim . . . We are claiming that this is an amendment by reference, that they are seeking to amend the existing minimum wage law. If you do so, you are required by the constitution to print not just the title, but also its entirety. So those people that signed this document did not receive the necessary information that they are constitutionally required to have.” 

Mark Brewer, legal counsel to Michigan One Fair Wage, said the initiative does indeed constitute a new law. 

“The lawsuit filed in the Court of Appeals and the challenges filed with the Board of Canvassers lack merit,” Brewer said. “Michigan One Fair Wage will be intervening in the lawsuit to defend the petition and will be responding to the challenges filed with the Board of Canvassers.” 

Winslow’s not convinced. 

“If you read their proposal, they leave both laws on the books and then just say that theirs supersedes the existing law, which is not clearly defined or understood as a legal term. Both laws remain on the books, which is unprecedented, not ever used by the legislature, nor could they craft legislation in such a way,” Winslow contended. “. . . Why not just seek to amend the existing minimum wage laws as opposed to going down this unprecedented rabbit hole of superseding the old law, but the old law will remain on the books, will remain in Michigan Compiled Laws, not to be repealed. It is perplexing.” 

The initiative would increase the minimum wage in Michigan — which was hiked to $9.25 this past January — to $10 per hour in the coming year. It would then increase to $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021 and $12 in 2022. 

But the proposal would also eliminate the tip credit. Currently, the minimum wage for tipped workers, like waiters and waitresses, is $3.52. And under current Michigan law, if their tips don’t bring the server up to an income of $9.25 per hour, the restaurant owner has to bring them up to that pay level. Winslow said that rarely happens. 

Under the One Fair Wage proposal, waiters and waitresses would simply be paid the minimum wage. Restaurant owners oppose that, Winslow explained, because it would be a “dramatic” 241 percent increase in their labor costs. 

He said servers also don’t like it because in other states where the tip credit has been eliminated, customers stop tipping and the earnings of servers actually goes down. He argued surveys have shown 97 percent of waiters and waitresses prefer tipping.

“We know that multi-billion dollar corporate special interests are not fans of direct democracy or raising wages for Michigan’s working families who struggle to earn enough to take care of their families,” said Darci McConnell, campaign manager of the One Fair Wage campaign. “We are confident that we have enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.” 

On the challenge to the paid sick leave proposal, Charles Owens, state director of NFIB, said he was involved in reviewing the petitions on the MI Time to Care petitions. He said the signatures were “extremely sloppy, some were unreadable.” The coalition is filing challenges to more than half of the submitted signatures. 

“It is clear the out-of-state funders of this initiative have been more focused on buying signatures to circumvent the legislative process than collecting valid signatures to support their bought-and-paid-for initiative,” said Mike Johnston, of the Michigan Manufacturers Association. “Buying signatures with dark money has resulted in sloppy work and invalid signatures.” 

Challenges submitted to the Elections Bureau include potential fraud, duplicate signatures, non-registered voter signatures, entering wrong or no jurisdiction of registration, circulators and signers entering invalidating dates, circulators not completing all required information, signers not registered in listed jurisdictions, and incomplete signatures found in the pulled sample. 

Londell Thomas, campaign manager of MI Time to Care, issued a statement in response. 

“We are confident that we have the required signatures to qualify for the November ballot. This challenge is simply an attempt by special interests to keep this issue off the ballot. Our campaign will fight to ensure the nearly 400,000 Michiganders who signed our petition see this on the November ballot.” 

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