Minimum Wage and Sick Time Initiatives Fair to Workers or Unfair to Employers?

When the Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature voted to adopt measures that would boost the state’s minimum wage, eliminate the tipped minimum wage and require employers to provide paid sick leave, it might have appeared to be a victory for those who support those initiatives. It isn’t that simple, however.

Michigan lawmakers adopted the two proposals with the result that neither could be included on the November ballot. The ballot committees that wanted the issues put to a public vote fear that Republicans will seize the opportunity to water down the provisions during the lame-duck session when legislators with term limits have nothing to lose from a re-election standpoint.  

Attorney Mark Brewer, who represents the ballot committees, said they’ll sue if lawmakers attempt to amend the measures. If they had been approved by voters, a three-fourths majority in each chamber would be needed to alter them. Now, only a simple majority is required.

There are two initiatives at the heart of all the concern. The first, Michigan One Fair Wage, would allow for a gradual hike of the state’s minimum wage from the current $9.25 an hour to $12. It would also include tipped employees. The second, MI Time to Care, would mandate the accrual of one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours an employee works.

House Speaker Tom Leonard voted to adopt both proposals; he did not reply to Greater Lansing Business Monthly’s request for comment.

Those opposed to the initiatives fear possible fallout to businesses in the form of undue burdens, especially on restaurants and other businesses where profit margins can be slim. They predict that automation will shrink the numbers of paid staff, making those who work for tips more vulnerable, and they point out that tipped workers often make significantly more than the current minimum wage.

Tracy Pease is a server in a southeast Michigan diner. She’s 47 years old and one of the volunteers who helped gather hundreds of thousands of voter signatures to put tipped wage, minimum wage and earned sick leave on this year’s ballot. She told GLBM, “I don’t believe in a ‘minimum wage.’ I believe that everyone who works 40 hours a week is entitled to a livable wage. Unfortunately, $9.25 an hour times 40 hours in the state of Michigan is not livable.”

Pease calls the tipped wage of $3.53 an hour “a disgrace” and added that the employer-employee relationship should be “symbiotic.” 

“In the case of the tipped wage,” said Pease, “it is not the servers’ responsibility to support a mediocre restaurant, and if you can’t afford to pay your servers a minimum wage with tips on top, then you shouldn’t be in business. Since 1978, profits have gone up, production has gone up, the cost of living has gone up, yet our wages remain stagnant.”

As to paid sick leave, Pease is also a supporter. “We’re human, we get sick. Workers have a right to see a doctor and stay home to get well. Do you have any idea the number of servers who go to work sick because they fear losing their job? Parents with kids who are sick need to be able to stay home instead of taking them to daycare or letting them go to school sick. And it’s been my experience that most restaurants don’t offer insurance but many still ask for a doctor’s note. It varies depending on management and the server. Legally, they’re supposed to pay you minimum wage if you didn’t make minimum wage with your tips, but they don’t always do that.” 

Ari Adler, director of communications for Gov. Rick Snyder, told GLBM, “Governor Snyder has not been commenting on or taken a position on the two citizen initiatives that were subsequently addressed by the state Legislature since neither one came to his desk and he did not have a role in them. If the Legislature were to take any further action and send something to the governor for his signature, then he would review it carefully before making any decisions on whether to approve it.”

While many things are up in the air, one fact stands firmly planted: There is no love lost between supporters of these two proposals and the legislators who, ironically, adopted them.

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