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Michigan $15 minimum wage ballot petition blocked, setting up court fight

The man is cooking Vietnamese Pork Banh Mi Sandwich in a black baguette.
Michigan officials have battled for years over whether to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15. (iStock photo by galitskaya)
  • Board of State canvassers deadlocks on $15 minimum wage proposal, blocking certification of voter signatures
  • Republican canvassers objected to petition change by organizers after state drafted a 100-word summary
  • Organizers are expected to take the fight to court

LANSING — A fight over raising Michigan’s minimum wage to $15 an hour is headed back to court after Republicans officials on Friday refused to certify an estimated 360,309 signatures to bring the measure to the ballot.

Opponents of Raise The Wage Michigan effort told the Board of State Canvassers that organizers misled voters by circulating a petition that was changed after the board had approved a 100-word summary that appeared atop the form. 


The change has major policy implications: The summary was written based on a petition stating that any employer with more than one employee would have to pay the minimum wage


But the version of the petition signed by voters changed the definition of employer, so that only companies with 21 or more employees would have to pay the state minimum wage. That classification would potentially exempt 90 percent of small businesses from the rules.

Attorney Andrea Hansen, representing opposition group Michigan Opportunity, argued the change likely “misled hundreds of thousands of people” who signed the petition. 

“The summary is false to such a material extent it taints the process,” she said.

Republican canvassers Tony Daunt and Richard Housekamp agreed and voted against certifying the petitions, which would have otherwise gone on the 2024 ballot if the Democratic-led state Legislature opted against adopting the initiative itself. 

"This is an absolutely egregious error,” Daunt said. 

The proposal would raise the minimum wage to $15 by 2027, amending a state law that currently requires the rate increase to $12 an hour by 2030.

The labor-backed plan is strenuously opposed by the restaurant lobby, which is funding Hansen’s legal work, because it would also phase out the state’s tipped wage (currently $3.84 per hour) by 2028 and require servers to make minimum wage.

Mark Brewer, an attorney for Raise the Wage Michigan, argued GOP canvassers who blocked certification on Friday took an “illegal” action because they had a “ministerial duty” to approve the signatures because they had previously approved the form of the petition.

Exempting employers with fewer than 21 employees from Michigan wage laws would mean they’d only be required to pay the much lower federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

But Saru Jayaraman, president of the One Fair Wage group that is backing the Michigan petition, said internal analysis shows 80 percent of the state's minimum wage workers would be still covered by the proposal. 

The change was made in the face of a “hostile” Republican-led Legislature that had undermined a previous ballot drive, Jayaraman said. But now that Democrats have majorities in Lansing, they could “close any loopholes.”

Organizers will appeal the canvassers’ decision and "feel supremely confident" the proposal will make the ballot even if they need to take the fight all the way to the Michigan Supreme Court, she said. 

Jayaraman called Friday's vote a "partisan attempt to stop democracy." 

Both Democrats on the four-member board voted to certify the petition, arguing that questions over the petition summary and modified definition of employer were not within their purview and should be decided by courts.

The Michigan Supreme Court is already considering whether the state’s 2018 Republican-led Legislature violated the constitution by adopting and then quickly weakening separate minimum wage and paid sick leave initiatives to keep them off the ballot that year.

The new Raise the Wage ballot proposal is a "sloppy, haphazard scheme" that has "no place on the ballot," said John Sellek, a spokesperson for the Michigan Opportunity opposition group.
Friday's board deadlock was the latest drama involving the initiative.


Organizers initially wanted to put the measure on the 2022 ballot but a petition signature scandal that disqualified several gubernatorial candidates also slowed the wage group’s collection efforts. 

The signature collection effort was also delayed when courts required the ballot committee to increase the size of a union printing label on its initial petition form because it did not comply with required font size rules. 

The group ultimately submitted 567,934 voter signatures, but the Michigan Bureau of Elections estimated 360,309 were valid, just topping the 340,047 that were required to advance the measure to the Legislature and qualify for the ballot. 

Separately, canvassers on Friday approved for circulation new petitions seeking to force recall elections for Democratic state Reps. Noah Arbit of West Bloomfield and Betsey Coffia of Traverse City because of their votes for so-called "red flag" gun confiscation laws.

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