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Michigan seeks to delay minimum wage, paid leave hike amid court appeal

gavel
Attorneys for the state of Michigan want to delay implementation of a minimum wage increase until a court case involving it is adjudicated. (Shutterstock)
  • State attorneys are appealing a ruling that struck down 2018 GOP amendments to paid sick leave and minimum wage initiatives
  • The state wants to delay enforcement of the original initiative language until the appeal is resolved
  • Business groups argue rules could slow COVID recovery

LANSING – Attorneys for the state on Thursday asked the Michigan Court of Appeals to delay enforcement of 2018 initiatives that would raise the minimum wage and expand paid sick leave, arguing the new rules should be suspended during an ongoing legal debate.

Michigan Court of Claims Judge Douglas Shapiro effectively restored the laws on Tuesday, ruling the Republican-led Legislature violated the state constitution when it adopted the citizen-initiated laws only to quickly weaken them via amendment.

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But state attorneys are challenging that decision, and asking the appeals court to delay implementation until the legal battle is resolved. 

Related: Michigan judge restores minimum wage, paid leave laws gutted by Legislature

Regardless, court rules mean enforcement could not begin until Aug, 9, Deputy Solicitor General Eric Restuccia wrote in a court filing. 

“The people of the state deserve predictability and stability in the status of the law governing sick leave and minimum wage,” he told the Court of Appeals. And temporarily suspending the lower court ruling would make it “clear to all relevant stakeholders that they remain in a position of status quo until this question reaches final disposition on appeal.”

As originally drafted, the initiatives would have required the state to increase its minimum wage to $12 by Jan. 1 of this year (up from the current $9.87), eliminate a much lower tipped wage for workers by 2024 and require businesses across the state to offer up to 72 hours of paid sick leave to employees each year. 

Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, had argued the GOP-led Legislature’s adopt-and-amend strategy was unconstitutional, and she celebrated Shapiro’s ruling on Tuesday, calling it a “victory for the residents of Michigan whose efforts to bring an issue before their elected representatives were wrongly circumvented by the Legislature in 2018.”

But other attorneys in her department appealed the ruling Thursday. 

“The Department of Attorney General has a conflict wall in place with (Nessel) and others on one side arguing that the decision to ‘adopt and amend’ was unconstitutional and different attorneys from the department are on the other side of the conflict wall arguing that the legislature was permitted to amend the initiative in the same session,” said spokesperson Amber McCann. 

At issue are the Earned Sick Time Act and the Improved Workforce Opportunity Act initiatives, which liberal advocacy groups had advanced by collecting hundreds of thousands of voter signatures. 

Rather than letting the proposals go to the ballot, the Legislature adopted but then amended the initiatives via simple majority votes, slowing a planned minimum wage increase and exempting hundreds of thousands of small businesses from mandatory paid sick leave proposals. 

Unions and worker rights groups hailed the court ruling, but business organizations argued the decision could have a “crippling effect” on employers already offering high pay to overcome labor shortages worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The initiatives, as drafted in 2018, would not have taken effect for nine months, giving employers and employees "significant lead time.. to prepare for the significant changes,” Restuccia, the state’s deputy solicitor general, wrote in a Thursday filing asking the Court of Appeals to delay enforcement. 

It's also unclear whether date-based minimum wage increases in the original initiative remain applicable, he argued. The language called for incremental raises each year and gradual phase out of the lower tipped wage based on deadlines that have already passed. 

Groups that backed the original initiatives are expected to fight for immediate enforcement. Plaintiffs in the case include Michigan One Fair Wage, Michigan Time to Care, the Restaurant Opportunities Center and Mothering Justice.

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