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What Is Going On with $15 Minimum Wage Effort?

October 24, 2023

Advocates for a $15 minimum wage will need to get the Court of Appeals to put their request before the state Legislature for adoption after the Board of State Canvassers declined to advance it over a strange inconsistency in the proposal.

Initially, organizers for One Fair Wage wrote that their citizens’ initiative applied to any employer of two employees or more, which is what the Canvassers approved back in 2022. Somewhere in the process, however, the proposal’s language was changed to the new minimum wage applying to any employer of 21 employees or more, which is what circulators presented on their petitions to be signed.

The change created confusion on several levels. First, could the Board of State Canvassers allow the completed citizens’ initiative with more than enough completed signatures be presented to lawmakers for adoption after a change was made mid-stream?

Second, why would One Fair Wage water down its own proposal, which would now exempt 90% of all small businesses, according to an industry spokesperson? It also would no longer boost the minimum wage for tipped workers, which was the driving reason for the citizens’ initiative to begin with.

Third, the One Fair Wage folks claim this wasn’t a mistake. They claim they meant to go to 21 employees and that the Democratic-led Legislature can fill in the gaps later. But if that’s the case, aren’t they urging lawmakers to adopt and amend a citizens initiative, which what they took the Republican-led legislature to court for pulling off back in 2018?

On the first question, the Board’s two Republican members, Tony Daunt and Richard Houskamp, had concerns that the number of businesses impacted by changing the number from two to 21 was significant and changed the meaning behind the original 100-word summary.

“Here we have a well-organized effort with lots of funding that either changed something randomly without letting us know or made a mistake and are simply not owning up to it. I think this is a clear no vote for me,” Daunt said.

But One Fair Wage attorney Mark Brewer argued the change was intentional, that all of the completed petitions turned into the Bureau of Elections are identical and it doesn’t matter if the canvassers signed off on the change or not.  For what it’s worth, Canvasser Jeanette Bradshaw confirmed the 21 number existed before the petitions were circulated.

“It was no mistake in the petition,” Brewer said. “There is nothing wrong with the petition. The change was clear to see, as we described in our response to the challenge.”

After the four-member panel split 2-2 on the matter, One Fair Wage Senior Advisor Dave Woodward said the group would absolutely be appealing the decision to the Court of Appeals and said the ministerial capacity of the board would again play out in a court of law.

On the second question as to why One Fair Wage would water down their own proposal, things get murky.

Andrea Hansen, representing Michigan Opportunity, said the 21 employees had to be a mistake. The change now means that 90% of the small businesses would be exempt from the state minimum wage laws and they would end up having to follow federal guidelines of $7.25 an hour and that it would not include tipped workers. Michigan’s current minimum wage is $10.10 an hour.

Michigan Opportunity spokesperson John Sellek said this petition effort messed up back in 2022 in not getting their petition signatures in on time, forcing them to essentially sit dormant for an entire election cycle until the 2024 cycle rolled around again. Now that it’s here, it’s clear there were more problems with this “error-riddled, misleading, sloppy and haphazard scheme.”

To this, Woodward argued the proposal would cover 80% of businesses across the state.

He said very small businesses with 20 employees and under will functionally be forced to keep the minimum wage because they would not be able to compete for labor with those who would need to comply with the $15-an-hour mandate.

“I am shocked that the business community, who has fought raising the minimum wage forever, is leading the argument that this is lowering the minimum wage. That is the most obnoxious, crazy, bizarre thinking I’ve ever heard,” Woodward said.

On the third question, whether the Legislature could adopt and amend his citizens initiative is something the Supreme Court is trying to figure out because the Republican-led legislature watered down the 2018 effort to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour.

Initially, supporters of a higher minimum wage wanted the Supreme Court to rule that the Legislature cannot immediately adopt and then change a citizens initiative. Now, they may be hoping the Supreme Court decides the Legislature can adopt and change a citizens initiative so this $15 effort could be changed to apply to all employers and tipped workers, as well.

Either way: “Workers of the state deserve a raise,” Woodward said.

Article courtesy MIRS News for SBAM’s Lansing Watchdog newsletter


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