In ‘Craven’ Bait-and-Switch Attack on Workers, Michigan GOP Guts Minimum Wage and Sick Leave Proposals

“Imagine hating working-class people this much.”

By Julia Conley, staff writer for Common Dreams. Published 12-5-2018

Michigan voters—joined by a “lame duck”—gathered to watch in Michigan’s capital as Republican lawmakers gutted a minimum wage hike and paid sick leave protections. (Photo: @LindsayVanHulle/Twitter)

Three months after ensuring that Michigan voters would not have a say in proposals to hike the state’s minimum wage and provide sick leave to workers, the state’s Republican-led Senate pushed through major changes to the initiatives on Tuesday, effectively gutting legislation that hundreds of thousands of Michigan residents had demanded.

Under the original minimum wage proposal, the state’s minimum wage would have gone up from $9.25 to $12 per hour by 2022—but workers will have to wait until 2030 under the GOP’s version of the bill. Tipped workers’s wages will go up to only $4 from $3.52 per hour by that time under the Republican proposal.

The raise offered in the original proposal was meager compared to the reforms that Fight for 15 and other workers’ rights groups advocate for. According to MIT, a single parent in Michigan needs to earn $23 per hour to make a living wage.

The paid sick leave proposal was supposed to allow workers to accrue an hour of paid sick leave after 30 hours of work, but the new version changes that to one hour after 40 hours. One million Michigan workers who work for the state’s 162,000 small companies will also be exempt from the right to paid sick leave under the GOP’s bill.

Protesters who gathered in the state Capitol chanted, “Shame!” and “Bought and paid for!” as the legislature approved the new measures, with a 60-48 vote in the House and a 26-12 vote in the Senate, while Fight for 15 was among the critics that condemned the “craven” move.

Michigan voters demanded the passage of the original proposals, with MI Time to Care leading the push for the sick leave bill and One Fair Wage gathering 400,000 signatures from Michiganders who supported the minimum wage hike.

But in September, state lawmakers voted to approve the initiatives—knowing that doing so would keep the proposals off Election Day ballots and that Republicans would be able to gut the legislation during the lame-duck session.

Democrats feared the lame-duck strategy, with state Rep. Leslie Love of Detroit preemptively calling the Republicans’ plan “nothing less than voter suppression” at the time.

On Wednesday, Lansing mayor Virg Bernero summed up the result of the strategy as “disingenuous, game-playing bullshit,” joining a number of critics in denouncing the attack on Michigan workers.

Some have argued that the GOP’s strategy violates Michigan’s constitution; a legal opinion written in 1964 by a Democratic attorney general argued that voter-initiated laws cannot be changed in the same legislative session.

“We followed the laws and rules of the state and collected enough signatures, only to have lawmakers adopt the proposal with the aim of gutting it in lame duck,” Alicia Renee Farris of Michigan One Fair Wage told local news station WLIX. “This illegal move subverts the democratic process and is just plain wrong.”

MI Time to Care is already planning a signature drive to get a paid leave proposal on the 2020 ballot if outgoing Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signs the bills as one of his last legislative actions before Democrat Gretchen Whitmer assumes the office in January.

“The atrocity of the lame duck is that people who are not in office in January are making decisions that will make an impact for decades,” Danielle Atkinson, co-chair of the group, told Mother Jones.

Editors’ note. The Detroit Free Press’s coverage of this is well worth reading.

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