Michigan voters will get to vote this fall on whether employers should be required to pay their workers when they stay home sick.
But short of a favorable outcome in court, voters won’t get to decide in November whether to raise the state’s minimum wage.
The Board of State Canvassers on Friday voted 3-1 to certify the sick leave proposal brought by the MI Time to Care ballot committee. Board Chairman Norm Shinkle, a Republican, was the lone opposing vote.
Canvassers split 2-2 along party lines, however, on certifying the minimum wage proposal, brought by a ballot committee called Michigan One Fair Wage. Shinkle and Colleen Pero, both Republicans, voted against certification. Democrats Julie Matuzak and Jeannette Bradshaw voted to certify the petition.
The state’s Bureau of Elections pulled signature samples for both proposals and found there were enough valid names to recommend certifying the initiatives for the ballot.
The two ballot questions have divided workers and employers. Groups backing both measures say they would create more economic opportunities for workers in the state, mostly through bigger paychecks.
Chambers of commerce and other trade groups representing employers, in contrast, say the measures’ adoption would lead to a slowdown in hiring.
“Michigan has made remarkable progress the past eight years growing the economy. Both the minimum wage increase and paid sick leave ballot initiatives would slow hiring and create (undue) burden on job creators,” Sandy Baruah, president and CEO of the Detroit Regional Chamber, said in a statement opposing both initiatives.
Danielle Atkinson, founding director of Ferndale-based Mothering Justice, an advocacy group backing the MI Time to Care proposal, argues that companies that don’t offer paid leave to ill employees actually hurt their bottom line.
Employees who can’t afford to stay home will show up to work sick, she said, and are less productive on the job.
“We know (our proposal is) good for business, it’s good for families, it’s good for communities,” Atkinson said. “We have business owners, as well, that see this as important to not only their bottom line, but just the health of their organization because it’s the health of their employees.”
The board’s action Friday comes as the deadline approaches to send citizen-initiated proposals to the Legislature, which has 40 days to enact them or send them to the ballot. The November ballot language must be finalized by Sept. 7, according to the state.
The canvassers’ vote was delayed one day after Eric Doster, an attorney representing a coalition of business groups opposed to the paid sick leave proposal, who argued at a meeting on Thursday that the board hadn’t waited long enough after Bureau of Elections staff reports were made public to vote. Canvassers were scheduled to vote Thursday, but instead recessed until Friday after hearing lawyers’ arguments for and against both ballot issues.
Mark Brewer, an attorney representing both the Michigan One Fair Wage and MI Time to Care ballot committees, dismissed Doster’s action as a stunt intended to delay certification of ballot proposals that Doster’s clients don’t like.
MI Time to Care
MI Time to Care is a legislative proposal that would allow workers in Michigan to accrue paid sick leave for themselves and to care for family members, as well as for victims and family members of victims of domestic violence or sexual assault.
Employees could earn at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 72 hours per year. That’s the equivalent of nine eight-hour work days. Employees of small businesses — those with fewer than 10 employees — could accrue up to 40 hours, or five days, of paid leave each year and another 32 hours of unpaid sick leave per year.
Michigan currently has no requirement for paid sick leave. Ten states and Washington, D.C., have adopted such measures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
A coalition opposing the ballot measure, Small Business for a Better Michigan, consists of a number of business groups, including the Small Business Association of Michigan, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Michigan Manufacturers Association and the Michigan Restaurant Association, among others. The coalition has not filed a court challenge.
The group’s ballot committee raised $80,000 from April 21 through July 20, according to state campaign finance records.
They claim the paid sick leave proposal is being pushed by out-of-state interests, not Michigan residents.
Amanda Fisher, assistant state director for the National Federation of Independent Business in Michigan, said the coalition soon will decide which option it will pursue, from fighting the proposal at the ballot or filing a court challenge to block it to urging the Legislature to adopt it so lawmakers can change it.
Employers already do offer paid leave, she said, adding that the MI Time to Care proposal “very tightly controls” what employers are required to do.
“Our members then lose the flexibility to work with their employees,” Fisher said. “It just causes a big problem for businesses altogether, and it ends up hurting everyone.”
MI Time to Care received $390,001 in direct contributions from June 27 through July 20, according to state campaign finance records. All but $1 of that came from Sixteen Thirty Fund, a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)(4) organization that advocates for social welfare issues. Other funders include The Fairness Project, an advocacy group for raising the minimum wage and enacting paid sick leave also based in Washington.
Atkinson countered that her group’s petition was signed by hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters, who did so because they support the measure.
“We deserve a chance for voters to have their say,” she said.
Michigan One Fair Wage
The Michigan One Fair Wage proposal would change state law to gradually increase the state’s minimum wage to $10 in 2019 and $12 by 2022. That wage rate would apply to restaurant workers and other employees who receive tips, who today are paid below minimum wage.
Minimum wage in Michigan is $9.25 per hour; tipped workers earn a minimum of $3.52 per hour before tips. Employers are required under state law to pay the difference to workers who don’t earn enough in tips to reach the minimum wage rate.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, which advocates for better working conditions for metro Detroit restaurant workers, is among the leading supporters of the campaign.
“It is one of the best economic stimulus packages,” said Alicia Renee Farris, steering committee chairwoman for Michigan One Fair Wage. “When people make more, they pay more into the economy and they’re able to spend more.”
Farris told reporters Friday that canvassers are preventing voters from having their say.
“We plan to sue,” she said, adding: “(It’s) even more disappointing today that the board of canvassers went against their staff’s recommendation for certification. And by their own admission, that doesn’t typically happen. And so again, corporate interests at work.”
One Fair Wage already is being challenged in court by a ballot committee called Michigan Opportunity; its treasurer is Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Lansing-based Michigan Restaurant Association.
“We firmly believe that the Michigan One Fair Wage petition, financed almost exclusively by out-of-state interests, has willfully violated Michigan’s Constitution and Michigan election law to achieve the special interest ends of their financiers,” Winslow said in a statement this month.
Michigan Opportunity is asking the court to declare the One Fair Wage proposal ineligible for the November ballot because its language refers to the law that would be changed only by its title, rather than by reprinting the entire law highlighting what changes would be made — which they contend violates the state constitution.
Brewer, representing the One Fair Wage and MI Time to Care ballot committees, rejects Michigan Opportunity’s argument and says the ballot language clearly notes that the proposal would “supersede” existing state law.
He said Friday that he plans to file a separate complaint about the board denying certification as part of the existing lawsuit.
Michigan One Fair Wage took in $325,000 from April 21 through July 20, according to state campaign finance records. Its primary funding source during the most recent quarter — $225,000 — was ROC Action, which is connected to the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, an affiliate of the national Restaurant Opportunities Center United.
The ballot committee also received $100,000 from the United Auto Workers’ political action committee.
Michigan Opportunity took in $202,550 from April 21 through July 20, the most recent data available, according to Michigan campaign finance records. Its largest donor was the National Restaurant Association in Washington, D.C., with $75,000.
It also received money from a number of restaurant operators, including Livonia-based Team Schostak Family Restaurants, whose chains include Applebee’s and Olga’s Kitchen ($20,000); Glendale, Calif.-based Dine Brands Global, which operates Applebee’s and IHOP restaurants ($20,000); Houston-based food service provider Sysco Corp. ($15,000); and multiple Michigan-based restaurant operators and hospitality companies.