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Board Deadlocks On Placing Minimum Wage On Ballot; Paid Sick Leave Gets On

July 31, 2018

The Board of State Canvassers deadlocked Friday in two 2-2 votes on approving the $12 minimum wage ballot proposal, Michigan One Fair Wage, on the November ballot.

Member Colleen Pero, a Republican, made the first motion to deny placement on the ballot “because it does not meet the required form in that it seeks to amend or revise the current minimum wage law by reference to its title only.” 

The motion failed on a party-line vote. 

Member Julie Matuzak, a Democrat, made the second motion, noting that the board had approved the language previously and that the question of whether the proposal amends existing law by reference is already before the courts. 

“I think we are showing disrespect to our process if we throw it out at this point because the sponsors of this petition came before us, they got our approval to circulate it, and submitted signatures,” she said. “. . . I think we show disrespect to the people who signed this petition and people who circulated this petition because they played by our rules.” 

The motion failed on a party-line vote. 

Michigan One Fair Wage circulated initiative legislation petitions to hike the state’s minimum pay rate to $12 by 2022. After that, it would increase annually based on changes to the cost-of-living allowance. 

Staff had recommended approval of the initiative legislation for the ballot. 

The board placed the paid sick time proposal, MI Time to Care, on the ballot in November in a 3-1 vote. Republican member Norm Shinkle voted no. 

“To have corporate . . . because that is what it was, those were corporate interests protected . . . It’s scandalous behavior, and cowardice at some point, I think,” said Dr. Alicia Renee Farris, chair of the minimum wage group. 

Mark Brewer, attorney for Michigan One Fair Wage, said the board should not have addressed the constitutional question. He said the complaint will be added to the existing court case.

“We think it is beyond their jurisdiction and, I cited yesterday, there is decades of case law that says constitutional issues are not for this board. They believe it is a question of form, so that is how they got at it. We think that is inappropriate, but one way or another now a court is going to decide,” Brewer said. “One of the issues I raised in my response and I will raise in the court is that we relied on this body saying this form was fine. They can’t, several months later, after we have spent over a million dollars on a petition drive, change their minds. It’s not only unfair, it’s unconstitutional. You can’t do that to folks. You can’t change the rules in the middle of the game.” 

Brewer told the board the opponents of the proposal were using a “cynical game to keep it off the ballot by running the clock out.” 

“Nobody can say, just waive this constitution, just let this go this time,” Brewer said. “I urge you not to indulge this scheme, unheard of in this state, to somehow attempt to run out the clock because it is a prescription for chaos in the fall.” 

Progress Michigan reacted to the board not placing the minimum wage proposal on the ballot. 

“The Board of State Canvassers should not be in a place where dubious legal arguments can be made in an effort to overturn the will of the people who signed petitions and the recommendation of the professional staff at the Bureau of Elections. Sadly, Shinkle and Pero have proven today that just like most other Republicans they will do anything corporate interests want, even at the expense of working people,” said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. 

Amanda Fischer, assistant state director for the National Federation of Independent Business in Michigan, expressed similar disappointment that the paid sick leave issue did make the ballot. 

“We think we did have valid challenges . . . We are also really disappointed in the fact that money outside of Michigan, dark money, can come in to the state and push these proposals that have not been initiated by legislators who are elected,” Fischer said. 

She said business interests will regroup and consider how to best fight the proposal next. She would not say whether that would be through a court case or a campaign against the proposal in the fall. 

“The policy is really detrimental to us, especially small businesses. People honestly could end up losing other benefits and perhaps losing jobs . . . Seventy-five percent of employers do provide sick leave benefits. So what this does is it very tightly controls what they have to provide, so you might see some people pull back. Some may be giving more and they’ll have to pull back because of the regulatory impact.” 

If approved, employees working for businesses with 10 or more employees would accrue a minimum of one hour of “earned sick time” for every 30 hours worked. Employees could use 72 hours in a year unless the employer selects a higher number. Workers in small businesses with fewer than 10 employees, would accrue one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees could use 40 hours in a year unless the employer selects a higher limit. If the employee uses more than 40 hours, the employee could take an additional 32 hours of unpaid sick time. 

Others reacted to the decision placing the question on the ballot. 

“Already, more than 380,000 Michigan voters have spoken with their signatures and we know a vast majority of Michiganders support this policy. For more than two million Michigan workers, losing a day’s pay, or a job, is as easy as catching a cold.  Earned paid sick time will allow all Michigan employees to earn time off so that hardworking people won’t have to choose between the jobs they need and the families they love,” said Danielle Atkinson, founding director of Mothering Justice. 

“It will cost Michigan business owners billions of dollars and will end up costing Michigan workers, loss of benefits, pay and jobs. Washington D.C. should not be dictating Michigan business policy that belongs in the hands of employers, employees and our elected officials,” said Tony Stamas, of the Small Business Association of Michigan. 

“No one should be at risk of losing their job because they need to stay home to take care of themselves or a sick child, yet too many Michigan families currently face the choice between that or going to work sick themselves,” said Rep. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit).

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