Gov. supports end to ‘discriminatory’ wage/benefit laws

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s yesterday filed an amicus brief in support of overturning discriminatory laws that some say infringe upon the civil and labor rights of workers.

The laws, 2018 PA 368  and 2018 PA 369, gutted the earlier proposals to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour and provide workers with paid sick time that can be used for personal and family health needs, respectively.

“Michiganders turned out in historic numbers to get minimum wage and paid sick leave on the ballot, and we need to respect their wishes,” said Governor Whitmer. “Every person should be able to trust that their elected officials have their best interests in mind, which is why we must end the unconstitutional games that the Legislature has been playing with voters.”

Governor Whitmer’s announcement of the amicus brief follows after a number of civil rights and labor groups, faith-based organizations and social justice advocates have questioned the constitutionality of these laws that were passed in 2018 under Gov. Rick Snyder’s administration. Since then the coalition has been calling the Michigan Supreme Court to review these laws.

“Today’s filing gets us one step closer to restoring the public’s trust in state government,” added Governor Whitmer.

The governor’s brief was filed late Wednesday afternoon in support of the Michigan One Fair  Wage Ballot Committee, the Michigan Time to Care Coalition, the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan, Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice,  Michigan Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, Michigan Unitarian Universalist Social Justice of Michigan and the Michigan AFL-CIO.

“We greatly appreciate Governor Whitmer’s support for Michigan One Fair Wage and Michigan Time to Care, recognizing that our hardworking men and women, along with their families and loved ones, deserve better than these unconstitutional laws that were disgracefully passed during the lame-duck session,” said Dr. Alicia Renee Farris, state director of Restaurant Opportunities Center (ROC) of Michigan and Michigan One Fair Wage Steering Committee Chair. “Amending the One Fair Wage and Earned Paid Sick Time proposals after they were adopted undermines the democratic process and pushes millions of workers — including those who receive tips — deeper into poverty. The governor’s significant move will uphold and respect the constitution and follow the law and rules of the state.”

Nearly 80 percent of tipped workers in Michigan are women, many of whom are people of color and immigrants who live in poverty and access public benefits at greater rates than non-tipped workers. About 35 percent of tipped workers in the state are mothers.

“We have stood firmly against the ‘adopt and amend’ strategy devised by legislative Republicans to gut pro-working family ballot proposals. Their actions were wrong and unconstitutional,” said Ron Bieber, president of the Michigan AFL-CIO. “The dismantling of these initiatives was an affront to the people’s right to direct democracy and the working families of Michigan deserve better. We welcome Governor Whitmer joining us and many others in filing an amicus brief in this case.”

Currently, the minimum wage in Michigan is $9.45 per hour. For tipped workers, however, the minimum wage is $3.59 per hour, driving many of them use food stamp and other public service benefits in order to provide basic needs for their families.

“We applaud Gov. Whitmer’s decision to speak out publicly against the blatant attempts by the Legislature to thwart democracy and undermine the will of the people,” said W. DeWayne Wells, executive director of Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan.

“The people need their elected leaders to stand up for ordinary people and uphold the rule of law. By denouncing the actions of lawmakers during lame duck, Governor Whitmer and Attorney General Nessel are demonstrating their commitment to the people of Michigan. Our democracy cannot prosper if lawmakers abuse their power to bypass the will of the voters. We are grateful for Governor Whitmer’s solidarity and willingness to hold congress accountable,” said Gina Goldfaden, lead organizer of Southeast Michigan Jobs with Justice.

In late October 2017, Michigan One Fair Wage (MOFW) began circulating statutory initiative petitions to create a new minimum wage law, which would raise the state minimum wage for all workers, including those receiving tips, to $12 per hour in 2022 and 2024. At the same time, Michigan Time To Care (MTTC) also began circulating statutory initiative petitions to create a new Michigan Earned Sick Time Act that would allow all employees to earn an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked to be used for personal and family health needs.

In May of 2018, MOFW and MTTC each filed nearly 400,000 signatures in support of their respective proposals. After review, the Bureau of Elections determined that there were sufficient signatures to certify both proposals for the ballot.  Dividing among party lines, the Board of Canvassers voted not to move MOFW forward. This decision was later overturned by the Michigan Court of Appeals and MOFW was ordered to be placed on the November 2018 ballot.

Upon receipt of both proposals, in September 2018, the Legislature adopted both proposals in order to keep them off the 2018 general election ballot and then essentially gutted them during the 2018 lame-duck session of the Legislature. The MOFW proposal was enacted as 2018 PA 368 and the MTTC proposal was enacted as 2018 PA 369.

During the lame duck session, Gov. Snyder signed 2018 PA 368 and amended PA 337, including that the minimum wage would not reach $12 per hour until 2030, the subminimum wage for tipped employees would continue, and the inflationary adjustment was removed.

Similarly, during the lame duck session, the Legislature enacted and the Gov. Snyder signed 2018 PA 369 which significantly amended PA 33, excluding hundreds of thousands of employees and reducing the permit of sick time for workers. The 2018 PA’s 368 and 369 are scheduled to take effect in late March of 2019.

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