LANSING — Republicans in the state Senate voted Wednesday to gut two initiatives that would raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour and require employers to provide paid sick time to employees.
The Senate passed the bills on a mostly party-line vote of 26-12 after the Senate Government Operations committee earlier in the day made significant changes to the measures on 3-2 party-line vote.
Under the changes, instead of raising the minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2022, wages would not reach that level until 2030. And tipped workers such as bartenders and wait staff, who also were supposed to see a $12 hour wage more gradually, will see their pay rise to only $4 per hour by 2030.
Paid sick time, which was supposed to accrue at a rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, or 72 hours per year, was cut to one hour for every 40 hours worked, or 36 hours per year.
The GOP-sponsored bills were done to ensure that “it maintains the spirit and intent of the initiative,” said Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, who sponsored the changes to paid sick leave. “In other states where this has passed, it has led to increased incentives to not hire people and a cacophony of lawsuits between employees and employers.”
But Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, said the changes showed an awful display of political gamesmanship because the bills weren't introduced until after the Nov. 6 election to hide the measures from voters before they cast their ballots.
"The answer is that you don’t like the results of the election and negotiations won’t work out the way you want to in the next session," he said. "I’m willing to negotiate, but I will not support a blatant disregard of our democracy."
The votes unravel laws passed earlier this year to raise the minimum wage from $9.25 to $12 per hour and require employers to provide paid sick time for workers.
Progressive groups successfully had gathered enough signatures to get the two issues on the Nov. 6 general election ballot. But the Legislature swooped in and approved the two citizen-led initiatives in September, in an effort that was more about keeping the issues off the Nov. 6 ballot and giving the Legislature the power to amend the two laws with a simple majority. If the proposals had gone to the ballot and been passed by voters, it would take a ¾ majority to amend the laws.
Two days after the election results were tallied, the changes to the two bills were introduced, They are expected to be voted on in the House next week.
The Republicans in the Legislature want to make the changes before Jan. 1, when Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer is sworn in and before the GOP majorities in both the Senate and House shrink.
The business community rallied to change the two bills as a way to keep their costs down, said Charles Owen of the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
“This would make it very difficult for us to be competitive,” he said of the paid sick leave law. “The Michigan proposal is worded so sloppily that an employee could disappear for three days, come back and then it would be up to the employer to prove that they weren’t sick.”
The minimum wage increase would be “Armageddon for the restaurant industry,” said Robert O’Meara, vice president of the Michigan Restaurant Association. “In Michigan, the restaurant and hospitality industry employs 595,000 people and they rely on the tips they receive every day.”
But Democrats and the people who gathered the signatures to get the issues on the ballot decried the legislative action as a slap at democracy.
“I’m a mom and we have a lot of conversations with my kids about fairness. What I know for sure is not fair is that we all get sick, but only some of us can take time off to heal or take care of someone,” said Danielle Atkinson, who led the effort to get paid sick time on the ballot. “We got 400,000 signatures and the people weren’t confused — they knew exactly what they were signing. This is not accessible, this is not democracy. People signed a petition and expected their voice to be heard.”
Joel Panozzo, owner of the Lunch Room restaurant in Ann Arbor, said he pays his employees a living wage and benefits, but thinks that all restaurants should do the same thing.
“The fact that over 400,000 people signed the petition who want this to be the standard should prompt the legislature to vote against the changes,” he said. “As a business owner, I want the state Legislature to support businesses like me.”
Under the minimum wage bill, the $9.25 current minimum wage would increase by $.23 cents per year until 2030 when it hits $12 per hour. Tipped workers were removed from that equation and their $3.52 current hourly wage would increase by $.04 cents per year and hit $4 per hour in 2030. If the tips don’t bring an employee up to the minimum wage, the employer would have to pay the shortfall.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, opposed the bills and said he believes the action is unconstitutional. He cited an opinion from former Attorney General Frank Kelley, who said that bills could not be adopted and then amended in the same session year.
But Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said he believes the state constitution allows the Legislature to make changes to adopted laws.
The bills — SB 1171 and 1175 — now head to the House of Representatives for consideration as soon as next week.
Kathleen Gray covers politics and the marijuana industry for the Detroit Free Press. Contact her: 313-223-4430, firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @michpoligal.