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Is The Sick Leave Issue Of The Minimum Wage Caliber?

March 21, 2017

Courtesy MIRS News Service

The last two times the Democrats pressed hard for a minimum wage hike, legislative Republicans ended up passing an increase rather than risk a ballot proposal that they viewed would have been tougher on their business industry friends.

Recently Michigan Democrats have made it clear they plan to champion “paid sick leave” over the months ahead. 

Will the Republicans find the paid sick leave issue to be as difficult to combat as the minimum wage hike was? Today, MIRS asked a panel of pundits to wrestle with that question — and three other questions, as well. 

Question 1 – Could the ‘paid sick leave issue’ ultimately place as much pressure on legislative Republicans as the minimum wage hike issue has in past years?  

“Absolutely. It is an employee-friendly issue when Republicans are generally seen as employer-friendly — and mandate-averse,” said Kelly ROSSMAN-McKINNEY of the Truscott Rossman Group. “As an employer who provides paid sick leave to employees, I understand the struggle — especially for employers in industries that demand ‘be there’ jobs and have a thin bench when it comes to replacing someone who is out sick. 

“But sick employees who don’t have paid sick leave are likely to come to work sick, which exacerbates the problem. Employees shouldn’t be penalized for keeping their germs at home. There is definitely a cost to employers of which all should be mindful.” 

Steve MITCHELL, of Mitchell Research and Communications, said paid sick leave may be a good issue, but it’s not as daunting as the minimum wage hike was. 

“Paid sick leave is an important issue,” Mitchell said. “But in terms of how Republicans would likely react to it, I don’t think it carries the scope and magnitude as a potential ballot issue that the minimum wage issue did.” 

According to Mark GREBNER of Practical Political Consulting, the paid sick leave issue is intrinsically a less compelling issue than the minimum wage issue. 

“I think the average person finds it easy to think of situations where sick leave could be abused, while that’s harder in the case of minimum wage,” Grebner said. “With the latter, it’s a question of how well rewarded a person is for putting in work, rather than being rewarded for coming up with a reason not to work. There are a lot of good policy reasons for allowing paid sick leave, but they may not resonate as well with the general public.” 

Dennis DARNOI of Revsix Data Systems said “paid sick leave” isn’t currently as strong of an issue as the minimum wage was. 

“There are definite similarities between the two issues that allows for public pressure to be put on legislators to support paid sick leave,” Darnoi said. “Yet, whether the issue would have the far-ranging impact that the debate over raising the minimum wage had remains to be seen. 

“Again, while I see a certain similar emotive appeal to both issues, increasing the minimum wage has gained more resonance than ‘paid sick leave’ holds.” 

Question 2 – Should Enbridge be doing more to defend its side of the argument to the public regarding the Pipeline No. 5 issue? 

“Why use a howitzer when a BB gun will do the job?” Mitchell quipped. “I think with an issue like this, you need to keep assessing to what degree the public in general is aware of it. As long as it is only a big issue with the environmental movement and some Democrats; it is probably best to respond on a limited basis under specific circumstances. The only thing an overall general defense of the pipeline might accomplish would be to introduce the issue to a larger portion of the public than are even aware of it now.” 

Grebner said Enbridge should only defend its side of the argument if it is willing to change its side of the argument. 

“Only if they have something more to say than: ‘We know what we’re doing; stop worrying about it.'” Grebner said. “General reassurance may be a bad idea, because if there’s even a small spill somewhere, it may only serve to place their remaining credibility at risk. 

“If they want to actually reduce suspicion and mistrust, they should find some way to address them directly. For example, maybe form a task force with the environmental community to review the results of pipeline inspections, and direct a cleanup campaign if one becomes necessary. That is, Enbridge should do more than they’re required to, if they want the enviro community to notice.” 

According to Darnoi, there are reasons Enbridge may feel it necessary to hold back. 

“From a public relations perspective, one would expect Enbridge to be more visible and vocal in their defense of Pipeline No. 5,” Darnoi said. “Yet, from a messaging perspective, a vocal defense would have to strike the right chords and not open up the company to other attacks. Given the history of Enbridge in Michigan, past actions may very well limit the credibility of any well-crafted PR defense.” 

Rossman-McKinney agreed. Enbridge might simply have a problem with messaging, period. 

“Enbridge’s ‘trust us, we’ve got this” message does not resonate and their history in Michigan is hardly stellar,” Rossman-McKinney said. “What we can’t see can hurt us.” 

Question 3 – The news media has been focusing a good deal of attention on the FOIA reform legislation that’s playing out in the Legislature, but is this an issue that is very likely to move the needle with the public? 

“Certainly not. For one thing, making the legislature susceptible to FOIA is inside baseball,” Grebner said. “For another, as we’ve already seen, they aren’t going to adopt any serious expansion or reform of FOIA. It’s just window-dressing and strutting. So, the media — who actually know something about how the law works — won’t give them any credit either.” 

Darnoi said many people may agree that government should be subject to greater transparency, while at the same time not pay much attention to the specific FOIA legislation or consider it a priority. 

“FOIA reform provides for great copy as there are many good examples as to why reform legislation is necessary,” Darnoi said. “But by and large it plays to a niche audience. There are more immediate and pressing issues impacting the daily lives of the general public. Families trying to balance their personal budgets can distinguish between wishes and wants. As an issue that motivates everyday citizens into action, FOIA reform does not register high on the priority scale.” 

According to Rossman-McKinney, pursuing public transparency is in the public’s interest even when the public is to a large extent apathetic about it. 

“I sure hope this moves the needle, but it’s incumbent on us to keep the fires burning,” Rossman-McKinney said. “People I talk to outside the beltway can’t believe some communications aren’t available to the public, even though the public is footing the payroll. All public employees — regardless of position — should be required to let the sun shine in and make every and all communication available. Those who are reluctant to do so must have something to hide. And if they do, here’s a tip: use your phone to make a call, not to text or email.” 

Mitchell said the issue simply does not resonate with the general public. 

“The news media cares about it, but the vast majority of the public remains unconcerned about it,” Mitchell said. “From their perspective, it has virtually zero impact on their daily lives.” 

 Question 4 – Following the 2020 Census, the Republicans could be faced with either saving all the seats they currently hold but at less “safe” margins, or sacrificing one seat while preserving “very safe” margins in the ones remaining. Which option would the Republicans be more likely to choose? 

“Republicans would be wise to choose the aggressive, bold plan of action,” Darnoi said. “For me, that is keeping what you have. In many cases making a seat ‘less safe’ means taking a district that leans plus 7 Republican and altering the partisan make of that district to become plus 4 Republican. Given the tools at the disposal of those cutting district lines, as well as the growing partisan divide within the electorate, I don’t see any reason why you would sacrifice a seat if you can keep a partisan advantage in all that you currently hold.” 

Rossman-McKinney said her best guess would be that the Republicans would play it safe. 

“I’m not a Republican so I’m the last person to get inside their heads but . . . as a Democrat I would prefer they save all of our Congressional seats, which have been dwindling with every census in recent memory,” Rossman-McKinney said. “If I were a Republican, though, I would probably stick with safe seats rather than run the risk of losing a seat of two.” 

According to Mitchell, the Republicans would probably be more likely to settle for fewer, but safer seats. 

“It’s really too early to know everything that’s going to be involved,” Mitchell said. “If history repeats itself, we’ll have a Democratic governor by then – and that will make a huge difference. There’s also the question of the recent Arizona decision and whether that — one way or another — might impact how redistricting is done next time around. But in general, I think the Republicans might be more inclined to protect safe seats rather than risk two or three seats in potentially good Democratic years.” 

Grebner said a lot might depend on whether or not all the members of the Congressional delegation want to hang around. 

“It will mainly depend on whether they have a member who’s retiring,” Grebner said. “If nobody wants to leave, it’ll be hard to choose a victim among their own group, and whoever they might target will call in every chit they’ve ever handed out. If one or more are willing to hang it up, the resulting plan will take advantage of that option, or will have to scramble to protect the open seat from being lost in case of a Democratic year. In any case, the retirement(s) will set the agenda.”

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