Sick time OK’d for Michigan vote; board splits on wage drive
DELTA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (AP) — Michigan voters will decide if workers should be guaranteed paid sick days under a ballot initiative that cleared a major step on Friday, unless the Republican-led Legislature takes the unlikely step of passing the legislation first.
The Board of State Canvassers voted 3-1 to certify the MI Time to Care proposal after determining that organizers had submitted hundreds of thousands of valid voter signatures. The board deadlocked, meanwhile, on certifying a proposed minimum wage increase for the November ballot — confirming that courts ultimately will decide the merits of a challenge brought by a business-backed opposition group.
The sick time proposal would require that workers earn one hour of paid leave for every 30 hours worked. Employees at businesses with at least 10 workers could use up to 72 hours of paid leave a year, unless an employer selects a higher limit. Those working for smaller employers could use up to 40 hours of paid time and another 32 hours of unpaid leave.
Danielle Atkinson, co-chair of the MI Time to Care campaign, said people should not be forced to go to work sick or to skip being paid to care for a loved one.
“We know that it’s really important that people don’t go to work sick. That’s a public health issue,” she said. “We know that’s good for business, it’s good for families, it’s good for communities.”
Small Business for a Better Michigan, a coalition of business groups opposed to the measure, expressed disappointment that the board rejected its challenges to the petitions. Most of the ballot drive’s $2.5 million in funding is from the Sixteen Thirty Fund, a 501c4 social welfare organization that is not required by federal regulations to disclose its donors.
Amanda Fisher, assistant state director for the NFIB in Michigan, said mandating paid leave is “really detrimental to businesses and, for us especially, small businesses. Because of the strictness and the regulatory aspects of it, people honestly could end up losing other benefits and perhaps losing jobs because it’s just so difficult to carry.”
She said 75 percent of employers provide paid sick leave benefits now.
Lawmakers will have 40 days to pass or reject the initiative. If it is rejected, the proposal will go to a statewide vote in the fall. Legislators also could propose an alternative measure to appear alongside it on the ballot.
The board split 2-2 on party lines over certifying an initiative to gradually raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $12 an hour and also increase the minimum for workers who make tips. Democrats in favor said the MI One Fair Wage campaign clearly submitted enough signatures, while Republicans in opposition agreed with arguments made by Michigan Opportunity, a restaurant-backed group that contends the initiative unlawfully seeks to amend the current law by reference and without re-enactment and publication as required by the state constitution.
A lawsuit challenging the minimum wage proposal is pending in the state appeals court.
Alicia Renee Farris, chair of the One Fair Wage campaign, said the challenge “is nothing more than a desperate attempt by corporate special interests to stop a popular proposal.”
But Republican canvasser Colleen Pero said complaints lodged by opponents of the ballot drive are meritorious.
The courts “remain free to do whatever they want to do regardless,” she said.