Michigan Senate scales back minimum wage, sick leave laws in ‘dark of night’

Members of the Michigan One Fair Wage coalition, which supports raising the state’s minimum wage to $12, including for restaurant workers, rallied on the steps of the state Capitol on Wednesday prior to a vote in the Senate on bills that would scale back the provisions. The Michigan Senate approved major changes to two citizen-backed laws that would increase worker pay and benefits.

Feb. 13: AG Dana Nessel may review Michigan minimum wage, sick leave law
Dec. 14: Snyder signs bills that weaken Michigan minimum wage, sick leave law

Michigan state senators on Wednesday dramatically scaled back two citizen-backed laws to raise the minimum wage and require paid sick leave.

Lawmakers exempted small businesses — those with fewer than 50 workers — from requiring paid sick leave, while slowing the increase of the state minimum wage to $12 by eight years, to 2030.

The changes are big revisions to initiatives that legislators adopted in September after proponents gathered hundreds of thousands of signatures from Michigan voters. And they were hurried through in hours after the revisions were first publicly released Wednesday morning in a committee meeting, even though lawmakers have several weeks to adopt legislation before it dies at the end of the two-year term.

Update: Group behind Michigan paid sick leave vows 2020 ballot drive if law gutted
Related: Servers want $12 an hour. This restaurant owner says he can't afford it.
Related: Paid sick leave law making some Michigan businesses feel queasy

Critics blasted Wednesday’s votes as Republicans working in secret to gut laws they don’t like before their legislative majorities shrink in January and a new Democratic administration takes over.

Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, who voted against the measures, said he saw them for the first time Wednesday morning.

He said he told incoming Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake and the sponsor of the sick leave changes, that he’d be willing to negotiate revisions in the new legislative term that starts in January.

“We may not have agreement exactly, but I’d be willing to compromise. They chose to go this route,” Ananich said. “They want to ram things through in the dark of night, 11th hour, right before session ends. I think that’s the wrong approach.”

Outgoing Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said the GOP is “absolutely not” being secretive.

The Legislature followed the law about posting committee hearings, he said, and heard testimony on the amended bills in public before the full Senate voted.

Meekhof said Senate Republicans heard from business owners in their districts that addressing both proposals “is one of the first things we should do.”

But the action in lame-duck session potentially has ramifications that will extend beyond December, when the two-year legislative term ends.

Supporters of the original laws have vowed to sue. They say the decision to rush legislation prevents citizens from reading, understanding and commenting about what would be changed before lawmakers voted.

“Most of the (senators) that are hearing these (bills) have been voted out or are term-limited,” said Danielle Atkinson, one of the organizers of the MI Time to Care ballot committee that backed the sick leave initiative. “They’re not going to have to live with the consequences of their constituents telling them that this is bad.

“It’s a broken system,” she added, “and we really need to have a process that lets people put their input in. And we also need representatives and senators that respect the ballot initiative process enough not to gut a bill that they passed a few months ago.”

Dec. 21: That's a wrap! What bills passed, died in Michigan lame duck for the ages
Related: See what Michigan lame-duck bills we're tracking

Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, wants to reduce the burden he said a new paid sick leave law would impose on businesses.

Minimum wage slowdown

Both bills approved Wednesday in the Senate would make considerable changes to the proposals as drafted during the citizen initiative process.

Senate Bill 1171 would raise Michigan’s minimum wage from $9.25 this year to $9.48 on Jan. 1, instead of to $10 under the citizen initiative.

After next year, the bill introduced by state Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, would raise the minimum hourly wage by 23 cents per year until it equals $12, which should happen by 2030.

The version legislators adopted in September is scheduled to bring the minimum wage to $12 by 2022. Hildenbrand’s bill also strips a provision to increase the minimum wage by inflation each year after the rate reaches $12.

The bill also restores the tipped wage, paid to workers who collect tips as part of their jobs. That generally applies to restaurant servers, who are among the biggest proponents of raising the wage.

Restaurant operators wanted to restore the lower tipped wage, which today is 38 percent of the full minimum wage, or $3.52 per hour. The law as written would increase the tipped wage gradually until it equals the full minimum wage rate. Hildenbrand’s bill instead would raise the tipped wage by 4 cents per year until 2030, to $4 per hour, effectively reducing it to 33 percent of the full $12 minimum wage.

Sen. Dave Hildenbrand, R-Lowell, is sponsoring a bill that would prevent tipped workers from eventually making the same minimum wage as other workers.

Sick leave changes

Senate Bill 1175, which would amend the sick leave law, would allow employers more flexibility to offer sick time to employees through more general paid leave benefits that could be used for both illness and vacation.

Most notably, the bill, introduced by Shirkey, would reduce the amount of paid sick time an employee could accrue — 1 hour for every 40 hours worked, rather than for every 30. Employers would be required to offer at least 36 hours of paid leave, rather than 72.

And it wouldn’t apply to employees exempt from overtime or who work for a private company but are covered by a labor contract, nor to small businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Before they were exempted, small businesses with fewer than 10 employees would have been required to offer at least 40 hours of paid sick leave, with another 32 hours of unpaid leave.

“This maintains the spirit and intent of the citizen initiative while removing ambiguity,” Shirkey said during a Senate committee hearing.

Republican legislators and business groups say the bills as drafted by citizen initiative would have been too burdensome for business.

“Our issue all along wasn’t the generosity of paid leave time, it was the bureaucracy of it,” said Rob Fowler, president and CEO of the Small Business Association of Michigan.

It was not clear whether employers who offer general paid time off benefits, for instance, could count that leave as sick time under the law as written, Fowler said. He said his association offers such personal time off to its employees, which could be used for sick time or vacation.

“Most of the people who are supporting of this have no idea what a burden it would be to comply with this law from a small business standpoint,” Fowler said. “I don’t know that they care. It’s not their job to care. It’s our job to care.”

Joel Panozzo, a co-owner of The Lunch Room restaurant in Ann Arbor and a supporter of the Michigan One Fair Wage coalition that backed the $12 per hour minimum wage, said he already pays his staff a higher starting wage. His business also offers paid sick leave, among other benefits, and counts employee retention as a positive result.

“When a business owner is able to retain their staff, they can focus on growing their business and investing in their local community,” he said. “If somebody is working a 40-hour work week, they should no longer question their take-home pay.”

Michigan One Fair Wage and MI Time to Care spent nearly $4 million combined on their 2018 campaigns.

Lawsuit looming

Mark Brewer, former Michigan Democratic Party chairman and an attorney for the ballot committees that circulated the sick leave and minimum wage initiatives, has vowed to sue. He cites a 1964 opinion by then-Attorney General Frank Kelley as the legal basis for a lawsuit; Kelley argued that lawmakers can’t adopt and amend a citizen initiative in the same legislative session.

Attorneys for Michigan Opportunity, a committee made up primarily of restaurant operators that opposes the minimum wage proposal, counter that the state constitution does not dictate when an initiative can be amended.

Both bills adopted by the Senate on Wednesday will go to the House. They can’t be taken up until at least Tuesday, though a timeline has not yet been decided.

“Our message is very short but very clear: Lawmakers, the ball is in your court,” said Pete Vargas, one of the proponents of the minimum wage initiative. “Michigan workers deserve to keep their raises, and it’s up to you to make sure it happens. We’ve done our part. It’s time for you to do yours.”

Term-limited Republican Gov. Rick Snyder has not said whether he would sign either bill.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

If you learned something from the story you're reading please consider supporting our work. Your donation allows us to keep our Michigan-focused reporting and analysis free and accessible to all. All donations are voluntary, but for as little as $1 you can become a member of Bridge Club and support freedom of the press in Michigan during a crucial election year.

Pay with VISA Pay with MasterCard Pay with American Express Donate now

Comment Form

Add new comment

Dear Reader: We value your thoughts and criticism on the articles, but insist on civility. Criticizing comments or ideas is welcome, but Bridge won’t tolerate comments that are false or defamatory or that demean, personally attack, spread hate or harmful stereotypes. Violating these standards could result in a ban.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.


Margot Haynes
Wed, 11/28/2018 - 8:47pm

If the Attorney General ruled you can’t pass a bill into law and then amend it in the same legislative session, that has the force of law, does it not?

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 11:02am

Margot I am not sure but I believe it should. The Michigan Senate Republication are subverting the will of the people. If we allow them to do this then what else will they do that is unethical and possibly illegal. One of the groups or both should file a lawsuit against them.

John Q. Public
Wed, 11/28/2018 - 10:59pm

If past is prologue--and it is--it really doesn't matter what Rick Snyder says he will or won't do. Anyone paying attention the last eight years knows his marching tunes. Ari won't be long behind to lie about it. That's what we call "public relations" as practiced by "political communications professionals" now.

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 8:51am

This Repub legislature is appalling! Do they believe in democracy? They follow the same routine every time they face an issue that their business interests want them to push but they know the public is opposed to - secret meetings held in the night! Same as the so-called
"right to work" bill. We should have voted even more of them out!

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 9:07am

Cut taxes on corps. and the wealthy, make it difficult for the poor and citizens of color to vote, and draw districts to minimize the impact of opposing voters. That has been the GOP game plan for years, and it has worked in MI and across the nation. Maybe the voting proposals passed in Nov. will eventually change the pattern, but for now they can still work the system they devised.

Barry Visel
Thu, 11/29/2018 - 10:32am

“...dark of night.” Really? This was expected to happen, and reported on, from the time we learned these issues wouldn’t be on the ballot. Strange (not exactly neutral) headline given it was pretty well known this was going to happen.

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 11:18am

“Pretty well known” by whom? Politicial insiders? It’s not fair to attest that the citizens of MI knew in advance that their efforts would be thwarted at the last minute by a bunch of Republican politicians.

Barry Visel
Thu, 11/29/2018 - 1:05pm

It has been well reported in various news outlets to expect this action in the lame duck.

Agnosticrat 2.0
Fri, 11/30/2018 - 6:32am

I think the problem is that citizens somehow.. in some way, expect Republican representatives to legislate above board.
I get it.
It is a hard reality for many who advocate a centrist ideology to think a party that in the past would give at least the appearance of fairness to wake up to. These are not your fathers Republicans... they no longer exist.
The party has devolved into an anti voter.. anti citizen... even anti business party as they continue silence about Trump attacking General Motors after his tariffs forced closing factories.

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 10:42am

Would it be time to pressure our representatives to outlaw these aggressive legislative sessions in Lame Duck? No new business after the election?

Mitch Stevens
Thu, 11/29/2018 - 11:25am

Overall, these amendments are to help smaller businesses and Michigan as a whole, because otherwise so many will have to reduce benefits for employees or force them out because of the added expenses.

If these amendments do not get pushed, MI families will be at risk of losing their livelihood.

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 1:18pm

And yet every other modern country manages to have a living wage and more generous paid sick leave. Funny, how they can do it, but we can't because 'think of the small businesses owners'

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 7:54pm

Bones that is far from true. Many of the European nations don't even have minimum wages. (Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Austria, Germany, Italy, Switzerland). They do have other ways to heavily subsidize low wage workers directly from the taxpayers rather than indirectly through businesses.

Dianne Feeley
Thu, 11/29/2018 - 1:06pm

Maybe we should get someone to introduce a bill that the salaries of MI legislators be based on the minimum wage!

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 2:04am

Exactly !!

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 3:56pm

It seems strange to me that the only constituents Meekhof has are business owners because they were the ones wanting the law changed.

Thu, 11/29/2018 - 4:24pm

Good news although we have already decided to raise prices by 15%, cut staffing and/or even take business elsewhere in the next few years.

Fri, 11/30/2018 - 8:27am

I get tired of the misrepresentation regarding the tipped employees. By current law, employers are required to guarantee a tipped employee makes the $9.25 minimum wage with their tips. i.e. if a server does not get enough tips, then the employer makes up the missing tips. Therefore, if any server tells you they only make $3.52 and hour, you can call them a blatant liar. The petition would also have a negative impact on most servers since they don't declare any tips above the minimum wage as taxable income unless it is put through on a credit card. Therefore, the petition would have reduced the overall tips received and made a greater percentage of their pay taxable.

Sun, 12/02/2018 - 1:16am

The changes in the mandatory paid sick leave law fixed this unworkable piece of legislation so it doesn’t cost small business owners, nonprofits and charatable organizations billions of dollars they don’t have. 80% of the states don’t have these kind of laws putting Michigan at a competitive disadvantage especially against states in the Midwest and South. The senate made this law work for Michigan. Let’s hope the House follows suit.

Lewis LaCrosse
Sun, 12/02/2018 - 1:57am

The people have spoken - leave the hourly wage increase the way it was originally written and tipped employees should make the same hourly wage as other employees and suck leave should be mandatory regardless of the number of employees !!!
If anyone is overpaid it is our legislators- our legislators should be part time !!

Chuck Jordan
Sun, 12/02/2018 - 10:09am

It isn't the proposed laws that bug me. It is the way it is being done. The democrats would do the same thing if they had the chance. Part of the problem is only 2 parties.