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Michigan's GOP lawmakers looking to change minimum wage, sick time laws

The two bills — SB 1171 and SB 1175 — are expected to be taken up shortly after the Legislature comes back to the Capitol after Thanskgiving.

In the final weeks of this year's lame-duck legislative session, state lawmakers have plans to tackle many odds and ends, but the two items that are causing the most heartburn is a plan to 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 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.

That legislative effort, however, 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 in the lame-duck session. If the proposals had gone on the ballot and passed by voters, it would take a three-quarters majority to amend the laws.

Two days after the election results were tallied, state Sens. David Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, and Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, introduced bills to significantly change the two laws and both are expected to get a hearing and votes after the Legislature returns to session on Tuesday.

The minimum wage bump to $12 per hour by 2022 also included tipped workers, such as wait staff and bartenders, who currently are paid $3.52 per hour and if their tips don’t get them to or beyond the current minimum wage of $9.25, the employers are supposed to make up the difference.

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One bill strips out the tipped workers from the law and says that those workers will receive a minimum wage that’s 38 percent of the established minimum wage of $12 per hour, or $4.56 per hour. If their tips don’t reach the minimum wage level, “the employer pays any shortfall to the employee,” according to the language of the bill.

The paid sick time law requires employers to provide one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours an employee works. The proposed amendments to the law provide fewer protections for employees who claim that their boss violated the law.

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said the changes are needed to protect employers in the state.

“We need to make it more acceptable to the business community, so we keep our economy on track. We don’t want to put a roadblock or hindrance in their way,” he said.

“And in terms of paid sick leave, some folks are going to incorporate changes in their vacation policy to account for that,” Meekhof added. “It has the opportunity to be very disruptive, especially for entities who do just-in-time products for their customers. Right now, it’s kind of unwieldy about how much time is earned, which is fine, but how they can take it without any type of warning is not.”

Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for Speaker of the House Tom Leonard, R-Dewitt, said accommodations need to be made for small businesses in the paid sick leave act.

“Let’s say you’ve got a landscaping company with four employees and two of them call in sick. You’ve got to shut down for the day,” he said. “We have to find a way to make that match with other business regulations in the state.”

Advocates for the two proposals said the Legislature should keep its hands off the two laws.

“Hundreds of thousands of people signed these initiatives because they wanted to see the change and I don’t think the Legislature should go in and mess around with that,” said Gilda Jacobs, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan League for Public Policy, which advocates for vulnerable populations.

“The minimum wage is really important in helping people to support their families,” she added. “And the earned sick time just makes so much sense. When you think about the people who would benefit — it’s the child care workers, the restaurant employees and the people who are taking care of our parents and grandparents. We don’t want them to come to work sick. This just makes moral and economic sense.”

Danielle Atkinson, chair of the MI Time to Care Coalition, which collected the 380,000 signatures to get the issue considered, said “10 other states and nearly three dozen cities and counties have this law on the books. Earned paid sick days are good for working families, employers and public health. Moms and dads who work should be able to take a day off if they get sick or need to care for a loved one. And they should be able to do so without losing pay, or worse, their job.”

Sen. Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said he expects “shenanigans” during the lame duck session, which will last three or four weeks. It will be the last time that Republicans can get their pet priorities passed before Gov.-elect Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat, is sworn in on Jan. 1 and can be a roadblock with veto power for Republican-supported legislation.

The GOP will still maintain majorities in both the House of Representatives and the Senate in the 2019-20 legislative session, but the majorities will shrink from a 63-47 advantage in the House to a 58-52 split and from a 27-11 majority in the Senate to a 22-16 edge.

“The party in power is going to get a lot of things that are on their agendas passed before a new governor has the power of the veto pen going forward,” said Jacobs, a Democrat and former state senator from Huntington Woods. “I expect a flurry of activity in lame duck to make sure Republicans can do whatever they can while they’re still in power.”

The two bills — SB 1171 and SB 1175 — are expected to be taken up shortly after the Legislature comes back to the Capitol after Thanskgiving.

Contact Kathleen Gray: 313-223-4430, kgray99@freepress.com or on Twitter @michpoligal.

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