The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, November 30, 2018

Labor braces for another year-end attack by GOP

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - The Michigan Legislature's lame duck session - the period after the Nov. 6 election but before the Jan. 1 transition into the swearing-in of new lawmakers - has, for the past eight years of single-party, GOP control, been a time of angst for the state's labor community.

The Republican-led Legislature adopted the state's right-to-work law in December 2012 during the first lame duck session of first-year Gov. Rick Snyder, and organized labor leaders have expected post-election GOP shenanigans every year since. 

This year is no different, and in fact there is greater urge this lame duck session for the GOP to complete its agenda - they have a smaller majorities in the state House and Senate and a newly elected Democrat, Gretchen Whitmer, with her veto pen set to take office on Jan 1. 

Next month state lawmakers will certainly take up a pair of citizen-initiated proposals on hiking the minimum wage and requiring paid sick leave that they intercepted from the state's Nov. 6 ballot. State lawmakers themselves adopted the language into law, with the expressed intention of altering the laws and making them more business-friendly during the lame-duck session.

Michigan's current minimum wage is $9.25 per hour, and the ballot proposal would have gradually increased the 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. The GOP is likely to at least modify the law as it applies to tipped workers. 

Michigan didn't have a sick leave law until the Legislature adopted ballot language in September with their same intention as the minimum wage language - in order to change it. The legislation, which was widely anticipated to have been adopted by voters if it appeared on the Nov. 6 ballot, would allow employees to earn at least one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, up to 72 hours per year. (Roughly the equivalent of nine eight-hour work days). Business groups have argued that the language in the law is onerous to owners and eliminates flexibility between employers and employees.

When asked about potential changes to the minimum wage and sick leave bills during the lame duck session, Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof (R-West Olive) said he saw opportunities to make the laws “more acceptable to the business community."

House Democratic Leader Sam Singh said the GOP's legislative intercept of minimum wage increases and paid sick leave requirements is "something that smacks every Michigan voter in the face and tells them that this Republican Party doesn’t care about their voice, their perspective."