Lois Robertson-Douglass is a professor emeritus at Oakland Community College
As a person who is proud to call the beautiful state of Michigan my home, I was deeply upset last year when our elected state representatives decided to callously ignore the collective voice of working people as they took away Michiganders’ opportunity to vote on the earned paid sick leave ballot initiative in November.
For most of my working life, I worked as a civil servant in Michigan and had jobs that gave me paid sick leave. I was fortunate to have been provided this benefit, and I firmly believe that all working men and women in this state deserve the same respect and time to care for themselves and their families, without being penalized.
The paid sick leave initiative, which was adopted and then gutted by the Republican-led state legislature during the lame duck session, expressed the will of thousands of workers across the state who worked hard to secure the required number of signatures. However, what lawmakers passed is not what Michigander’s signed on to. What they passed once again leaves Michigan’s working families holding the short end of the stick.
The sad irony is that those same elected officials, who decided that Michigan voters don’t deserve this benefit, are salaried and get paid in full whether or not they show up to work. Their underhanded behavior clearly exposes their utter disregard for our democracy and makes the passing of such a watered-down paid sick bill all the more shameful and dangerous.
What is even more puzzling is that this move comes at a time when studies consistently show that the health of Americans across the country is in jeopardy. Life expectancy is decreasing, and infant mortality is increasing. We should be investing in the health of working families, not snatching away benefits that keep people safe and strong.
A recent Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) survey of 22 of the wealthiest nations in the world, shows that the U.S. is the only country that does not provide workers, “some form” of paid sick leave. When a country’s leaders do not take care of the health and well-being of its working people, it reveals a fundamentally flawed national character. It highlights that those leaders see working people as disposable, and that is unacceptable.
The legality of lawmakers’ lame duck actions is currently under consideration by the Michigan Supreme Court, with oral arguments scheduled for July 17. Recently, multiple parties, including the attorney general and governor, filed legal briefs in the case before the Supreme Court arguing what took place during lame duck last year was unconstitutional.
If they agree that everyone deserves a fair and equal shot at leading a good life, the Supreme Court must strike down the shameful and undemocratic actions of the legislature that took away the well-deserved right to earned paid sick time for Michigan’s workers.
Investing in our nation is about much more than ensuring that corporate interests are protected while working families are left by the wayside. It must be about growing the economy for all of us and that starts by putting working people first for a change.