Opinion | Paid sick leave may be gutted in Michigan, but it’s coming back

Gilda Jacobs is the President and CEO of the Michigan League for Public Policy; Sherry Leiwant is Co-President and Co-Founder of A Better Balance, a national legal advocacy organization; Vicki Shabo is vice president for workplace policies and strategies at the National Partnership for Women & Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy organization

Last month, Gov. Rick Snyder dealt a blow to democracy by gutting the state’s paid sick time law. This was just one of the intentional subversions of democratic process that occurred in Michigan in the lame duck session. Using what can only be described as a blatant undermining of voters’ preferences, and armed with disingenuous talking points from business trade groups, Snyder thwarted the will of hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters who believe the state’s hardworking people should have paid sick time protections.

Paid sick time laws have been passed in 10 other states and 35 localities and have been successfully implemented with no harm to businesses or the economy. Studies show paid sick days improve the health of workers, families and communities. It’s no wonder that voters overwhelmingly support efforts to provide paid sick time to the 40 percent of the workforce that currently lacks it. That seemed likely to be the case in Michigan, where a paid sick time law modeled on other laws passed around the country garnered nearly 400,000 signatures and was headed for the November ballot.

However, under Michigan law the Legislature can choose to pass a ballot initiative rather than submitting it to the people. Republican legislators, knowing the measure was polling incredibly well, cravenly passed the paid sick time law in order to keep it off the ballot and allow them to eviscerate in the lame duck session.

By dismantling the paid sick time law, lawmakers chose special interests over the will of constituents and stripped the right to earn paid sick time from 62 percent of Michigan workers. The new law excludes all temporary and most part-time workers, anyone employed at a workplace with fewer than 50 employees and all full-time salaried workers. The modified law also eliminates the requirement that workers must be able to use sick time without advance notice  - which is often exactly when sick time is needed. We’ve all woken up with a fever and chills or had a child who’s been up all night with a stomach bug; but under this law, we could be fired for needing a sick day. The gutting of the sick time law is the gutting of the right of hardworking people to care for themselves and their loved ones, and working people who are paid low wages and struggle to make ends meet are hit the hardest.

With the stroke of his pen, Snyder codified a meaningless paid sick days law that leaves behind the hardworking seasonal retail employee and the teacher in a small daycare center  - folks whose jobs have them directly interacting with the public. The protections that remain are weak. Even those lucky few who are still covered by the pared down law may not be able to access paid sick time when they need it.

The new law presumes any employer leave policy that offers 40 hours per year of paid time off of any kind, including vacation and personal days, will comply with the law. Employers can require any kind of advance notice of the leave, meaning it can’t be used when sick time is needed immediately, such as for a flu or sudden stomach virus. This totally undermines the purposes of any paid sick time law. What started out as the strongest paid sick days law in the country has quickly and shamefully turned into one of the worst.

There is a silver lining for paid sick time supporters. It is a sign of their movement’s success that opponents knew they could not defeat the measure at the ballot. Instead, they used a legal maneuver to deprive Michigan voters of the chance to vote on paid sick time and then made sure to eviscerate the spirit, reach and protections of the law that was passed. This is not what democracy looks like.

The shameful actions of the outgoing governor and lame duck legislators will not stop the MI Time to Care campaign. The campaign is already on the ground collecting signatures to put a real paid sick days measure back on the ballot in 2020. In the meantime, hundreds of thousands of workers in Michigan will be forced to work sick or jeopardize their jobs and their ability to put food on the table and gas in their cars.

Everyone gets sick. No one should have to choose between their family’s health and their job. It’s time for all representatives to understand that and to represent the interests of the people instead of special interests.

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Thu, 01/10/2019 - 7:45am

It is always great when people who have spent their entire lives and careers as NGO and governmental parasites living off grant and tax payers money believe they should be deciding how businesses need to run themselves.

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 9:33am

Agreed. These people advocate for forcing one group to give money to another group. When that happens on the street it's called robbery and it's a crime.

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 3:57pm

Well Matt, I have worked in the public sector for over 20 years and now in the private sector for over 20 years. Why do you call people serving the public, running our schools, our police, our fire departments, inspecting our buildings, and keeping our roadways in shape, parasites? What kind of rude, unthinking comment is that? And, may I remind you, that if business is left unregulated, workers are given subsistence wages, and our environment is ruined. Start thinking seriously about things and stop being flippant. It doesn't further the conversation.

Tue, 01/15/2019 - 10:53am

Margie, I agree. His comments don't add anything of value to the conversation.

Dot Potter Barnett
Thu, 01/10/2019 - 8:42am

I fail to understand why any informed person is voting for Republicans to be our lawmakers these days. If this lame duck fiasco doesn't prove my point, I don't know what will.

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 9:36am

You must suffer from Dunning-Kruger Syndrome. This group wants to take from one group and give to another group. When that happens on the street it's called robbery and it's a crime. Democrats are just as bad as any other party.

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 12:55pm

A wise person once told me that "you don't see the world as it is, you see it as you are. " So I can understand why you made this comment, and wonder what you see as your responsibility as an American to other fellow Americans? It seems like social responsibility is not one of them.

Governor Snyder, just as Donald Trump are only concerned about "their base". Under their administrations which were won corruptly by gerrymandering and foreign interference, their base will continue to shrink.

As a healthcare provider "fear and anger" are only sustainable for so long. It leads to sickness. I already see that happening among many people. You can either be a part of the problem or part of the solution. Your premise come from a scarcity mentality that tells you enough is never enough which in my opinion is just sad.

Dot Potter Barnett
Thu, 01/10/2019 - 5:06pm

Well, notice I said "informed."

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 8:50am

Thank you Gov. S for your compassion and caring about those who really need this benefit. I hope you find your place in the private sector like Engler did. Thanks for the memories. Peace R.L.

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 8:52am

Thank you Gov. S. for your compassion. You will be a real asset to the private sector like Engler. Peace R.L.

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 9:42am

Thank you Dot. Just remember who cares more about the less fortunate and the little People. Peace R.L.

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 10:23am

Great! Now those with flu, bad colds and other infectious maladies will "get better" IN THE WORKPLACE instead of at home, thereby spreading their bugs to other employees. As an employer, I would much rather that my sick employees confine themselves to their own homes rather than spread illness throughout my work force. Jeez! What is truly going to save me money -- paying a sick employee to stay home or suffering lower productivity from a larger number of employees?

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 3:16pm

Marty, as an employer you don't need a government mandated program to provide your employees with benefits. Just do it.

Sherry A Wells
Sun, 01/13/2019 - 8:16am

Thanks, Marty, for the first half of the detriment in not having paid sick leave. Restaurant workers and others directly serving the public can spread their bugs to their customers and clients, from babies to the elderly and all of us in between. And for a "selfish" reason, I urged an employee to take a Thursday and Friday off for a 4-day weekend to visit her parents--she'd been working at only half-speed. She declined, got sick and then spent the whole next week off work. That hurt my business.

David W
Thu, 01/10/2019 - 11:40am

To Matt and Jerry...
All I can say is "WOW!"

Thu, 01/10/2019 - 12:27pm

The problem with paid sick leave is that people start to think of it as an entitlement that they can accrue and carry forward to the next year and count toward their time used in calculating their service. It is not. I worked for a major employer. We got X number of sick days and number of personal business days. At the end of the year, those days disappeared. They did not count toward time in service nor were we able to collect any money for unused days. Some workers were very proud to say that they worked many years without taking a sick or personal day off. Maybe employers would be more willing to offer sick and personal business days if the workers didn't think that they should be paid for unused days or their time in service should be increased because of unused days.

David Waymire
Thu, 01/10/2019 - 3:03pm

I really don't think that happens...and if it does, it's because employers are not clear in explaining the situation. This is from a study in Connecticut, which was a n early adapter: "About one-third of the employers we surveyed reported an increase in the extent
to which workers used paid sick days after the new law took effect (see Table 11 below). However, as Table 5 shows, employers reported that, on average, only about two-thirds of their workers had drawn on the paid sick leave available to them; a third of employees had used no sick days in the previous 12 months." There was a small carry-over proposed in the law approved by the Legislature before it cynically gutted it. Employers bear responsibility for explaining the rights and responsibilities of workers. And employers who refuse to provide paid sick leaver deserve to lose more of their workers.

Kevin Grand
Thu, 01/10/2019 - 6:32pm

From each according to their ability, to each according to their need.

Only repackaged so that people don't catch onto what they're selling right away.

Gerald Devowe
Sun, 01/13/2019 - 1:46pm

now we start to lose all of the gains we made over the past few years.