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‘Death Star’ Repeal Moves To Senate Floor

September 26, 2023

The Senate Labor Committee approved legislation Thursday permitting local governments to set minimum wage rates and benefit mandates higher than the statewide standard, undoing an 8-year-old Snyder-era preemption nicknamed the “Death Star” law.

SB 171 and SB 170 were approved by Thursday’s Senate panel, 3-1, a party-line vote with opposition from the committee’s sole Republican and minority vice chair, Sen. Thomas Albert (R-Lowell).

The legislation unweaved another ban enacted under Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration, which kept governmental units – ranging from the state to school districts and community colleges – from disqualifying construction companies from a project bid based on them not having union representation.

When the legislation, specifically SB 171, received a Senate committee hearing on June 21 – 92 days ago – business organizations like the Detroit Regional Chamber, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, the Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Michigan Retailers Association submitted their opposition.

“Giving Michigan’s 1,800 local governments the green light to adopt, enforce and administer individual ordinances, policies and regulations regulating private sector wages, paid or unpaid leave requirements, other fringe benefits, regulations on work stoppages or strikes just creates a complex patchwork mess that hurts our state,” said Michigan Chamber senior vice president Wendy Block.

Between 2014 and 2019, Michigan was one of more than 10 states to block local labor ordinances from making their own minimum wage requirements, as well as one of 15 states prohibiting local project labor agreement rules from 2012 through 2017.

In a joint letter from the aforementioned business groups and others, opponents warned the legislation could make some locations in Michigan “high-cost islands,” with small businesses possibly unable to absorb a community’s new rules due to affiliated costs and a lack of administrative resources.

However, the Senate Labor Chair John Cherry (D-Flint) said SB 170 and SB 171 are really about ensuring “we are protecting workers.”

For example, he illustrated how this could protect Michigan’s construction workers by permitting local governments to require water breaks on project sites in their communities, for example.

In response to concerns that the legislation would create a layered, confusing business environment, Cherry said Michiganders existed under this statute for 100 years “and everything worked out just fine.”

At the same meeting held earlier this summer, Robert Joerg of the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), providing union representation to nearly 14,000 construction field members across Michigan’s 83 counties, said SB 171 would repeal a ban on local governments from requiring certain levels of training and apprenticeship standards for projects taking place in their neighborhoods.

Joerg said in a time of increased educational salience in all fields, as well as a need for skilled tradespeople, the current preemption’s language “disincentivizes Michiganders from seeking the training needed to advance in the construction industry.”

“It furthers the race to the bottom of educational standards and lowers the skill level of Michigan’s tradespeople,” he said. “Municipalities should have the authority to encourage contractors to invest in worker training.”

Meanwhile, Ann Arbor Mayor Pro Tem Travis Radina said while the state’s minimum wage is $10.10 hourly, the living wage in his community was $18.67 for a single adult and $32.37 for a family of four.

He said the disparity impacted other issues in Ann Arbor, like housing affordability and health outcomes.

“I’m not here today asking you to lift the state’s minimum standards to meet Ann Arbor’s needs, or to force other communities across Michigan to adjust to our higher cost of living or the higher cost of doing business, but I am asking you to stop artificially holding Ann Arbor and other communities back from solving our unique local challenges on our own,” Radina said on Jun. 21.

Earlier this month, a press conference promoted SB 170 and SB 171, as well as House versions HB 4237 and HB 4231, featured comments from Rep. Joey Andrews (D-St. Joseph) on how lifting the Snyder-era preemption could allow local communities to mandate things like paid sick leave and paid parental leave.

Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog newsletter


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