The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, September 21, 2018

'Undo and screw' GOP shenanigans strip wage, sick leave proposals from Nov. 6 ballot

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING - Another day in the Michigan Legislature, another outrage.

State Republican lawmakers on Sept. 5 voted to adopt two proposals originally slated to go on the Nov. 6 general election ballot that will: 

1. Raise the minimum wage to $12 per hour, and

2. Require employers to provide paid sick leave time to their employees.

So... is the party that has traditionally sought to lower workers wages (majority Republicans repealed Michigan's prevailing wage law), and at every turn prioritize the needs of corporations and rich people over individuals now - finally - putting workers first? 

Naah. Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber said the legislation is a naked attempt by Republicans to suppress the votes of Democrats who might specifically come out to vote for those issues in November. Moreover, there's every reason to believe that the language the Republican lawmakers adopted this month will be amended in a manner less favorable to workers this year after the election in the Legislature's "Lame Duck" session.

“Lansing Republicans have repeatedly refused to address the issues of minimum wage and paid sick time," Bieber said. "Now these same Republicans are publicly conspiring to stick a knife in the heart of these proposals with an unconstitutional ‘adopt and amend’ strategy.

"If their intent was good, I would applaud today’s actions. But Republican leadership has openly discussed their desire to gut the substance of these voter initiatives in Lame Duck to please corporate special interests. What these Republicans are doing is disrespectful to the citizens who signed petitions and to the working families who stand to benefit from these changes. The voters should reject these rotten tactics. We need legislators who want working people to succeed, not legislators who are manipulating the rules to benefit corporations and the wealthiest one percent.”

State Democrats didn't call the Republican passage of the minimum wage and paid sick time bills "adopt and amend," or "bait and switch." One term used was "undo and screw." The tied-together measures yielded a 24-13 vote to pass in the Senate and 78-28 vote in the House. Instead of giving them immediate effect, the legislation won't put the laws into effect until next March. There were no Senate Dems who voted for the legislation, while more than 20 House Democrats voted for it, pledging to make sure it is not altered in the Lame Duck session.

One thing Republicans are suspected of plotting is to do an about-face and simply kill the paid sick leave requirement, which employers hate, in the Lame Duck session. 

“I never thought I’d see the other side of the aisle take up a living wage increase or paid sick leave,” said state Sen. Curtis Hertel (D-East Lansing), to the Detroit Free Press. “But a vote for these initiatives is not a vote for workers. It will only allow my Republican colleagues to make any changes they please when no one is looking.”

The blatant effort to keep the measures off the November ballot - put there by citizen-led petition drives - was hardly denied by Senate Majority Leader Arlen Meekhof. "We're looking at a whole suite of things that we think are more friendly to Michigan," he said. 

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce said "polling suggests both (the minimum wage hike and paid sick leave) would have passed by 60 percent or more of the vote." The chamber said as adopted the paid sick leave proposal would "give employees one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked. All employees (full-time, part-time, temporary workers and independent contractors) would be entitled to use 72 hours in a year. As written, the proposal places severe compliance burdens on employers, including those with paid leave policies currently in place."

The Chamber, which holds a tremendous amount of influence among GOP lawmakers in the state Legislature, called the current structure of the proposal "a legal landmine."

One Republican lawmaker who couldn't stomach the thought of passing this pro-worker legislation - even if it is likely to be changed by the Legislature  - is one of the most conservative members of the state Senate GOP caucus, Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton), who voted no. 

“Growing up, I recall reading the Adventures of Tom Sawyer," Colbeck said. "It is evident from today’s vote that Democrat legislators have become adept at replicating Tom Sawyer’s ability to get others to paint their fences for them. Rather than challenge the merits of the proposed minimum wage and paid sick leave proposals, members passed ‘Republican’ versions of these ballot proposals to avoid having the ostensibly more onerous versions proposed by Democrats on the ballot this fall. We need to start opposing policies detrimental to the economic prosperity of our state by clearly stating why they are bad rather than rely upon procedural tactics. Our citizens deserve robust policy debates that allow voters to better understand the pros and cons of pending legislation.”