Paid Leave Mandate Raises Stakes in 'Punitive' Move Against Employers

Group behind move to hike minimum wage now eyeing paid sick time in Michigan

The same group that was behind a 2014 ballot measure to increase the state’s minimum wage is now pursuing a voter-initiated law mandating that all Michigan employers provide paid sick leave.

Raise Michigan has submitted petition language to the state elections bureau, and the Board of Canvassers is expected to rule relatively quickly on whether the draft language follows the proper form.

The proposal would create an “earned sick time act,” which prescribes a paid leave policy all employers would have to adopt unless they chose to provide even more generous benefits. Specifically, businesses would have to allow workers to accrue one hour of sick time for every 30 hours they’ve worked.

Small businesses with fewer than 10 employees would then have to be give employees at least 40 hours of paid sick time in a calendar year, and workers could take an additional 32 hours off without compensation. Larger firms would be compelled to provide no fewer than 72 hours.

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If the sick time were used for more than three consecutive days, employers could require reasonable documentation to demonstrate that it meets conditions specified in the proposal. In addition to simple illness these include things like taking care of a family member and attending meetings at a child’s school or day care center, plus circumstances arising from mental illness and domestic violence.

After the petition language is approved, backers say, they plan a statewide petition drive to collect 300,000 signatures, which is more than the 252,523 valid signatures needed to qualify the measure as voter initiated legislation. Once these are collected and verified, the Legislature would have 40 days to adopt the proposal. If the Legislature refused, the proposal would be placed on the 2016 statewide ballot. The Legislature could also vote to place a competing measure on the ballot.

Reportedly the petition drive will start out with volunteer signature gatherers rather than paid circulators. The 2014 petition drive to raise the minimum wage began the same way and later switched to paid circulators.

Although the proposal would affect all workers, its primary target appears to be restaurant employees.

“We take any threat to our members very seriously,” said Justin Winslow, vice president for public affairs with the Michigan Restaurant Association. “Compared to the four places in the country that have this sort of law, the language in this proposal for Michigan is the most punitive, and that’s very disturbing.”

“We realize it is still very early in the process; however, we also know that this is basically the same group that did this with the minimum wage increase and this time they probably know what mistakes to avoid,” Winslow continued. “For one thing, they are starting way earlier than they did with the minimum wage proposal. We are not going to simply sit back and watch what happens. We are having the necessary conversations and setting our internal strategies so we will be ready if this proposal moves forward.”

The initiative campaign calls itself the Time to Care Coalition. But the name that appears on the paperwork filed with the Bureau of Elections is Raise Michigan, the Michigan branch of Washington, D.C.-based Restaurant Opportunities Centers United, or ROC. Raise Michigan appears to operate under a loose structure with various allied groups speaking on behalf of the overall coalition.

Former Democratic state Rep. Dave Woodward, now a member of the Oakland County Commission, played a role in the minimum wage campaign, with launching its initial online petition drive one of his key functions. He holds a similar position in the mandatory sick leave effort.

Woodward was asked if the coalition had learned a lot as a result of last year’s minimum wage campaign.

“I’d say yes,” Woodward responded. “Last year we started our campaign in the middle of a polar vortex in February of the year in which the election was going to take place. I think we’re going to have a lot better weather, as well as more time to collect signatures with this campaign.”

“This proposal isn’t about trying to hurt employers,” Woodward continued. “Most of us who are used to having sick time take it for granted. People shouldn’t have to work when they are sick, and we need to recognize there are other situations that arise, such as having to take care of an elderly parent or grandparent. When you look at it, accruing one hour of sick time for every 30 hours worked isn’t unreasonable. In the models where this has been used across the country, it has not only aided employees, but at the end of the day, employers have also benefited from the improved working conditions it creates.”

Woodward was asked how smaller businesses, like mom-and-pop restaurants that have few daily staffing options, would cope with the regulatory structure the proposal would create.

“The proposal does treat smaller businesses differently than larger ones,” Woodward said. “And regardless of the size of the business, people shouldn’t be working when they are sick. No one should want someone who is sick serving them or preparing their meals. We know about the health hazards that sort of situation can cause.”

Winslow said there are very few examples around the country of sick leave laws being on the books, let alone one enacted as a result of a popular vote.

“The one I’m aware of was a mandatory sick leave proposal that passed in Massachusetts,” Winslow said. “It got around 60 percent support in a year when a Republican won the governor’s race.”

In 2014, the effort to put the minimum wage proposal on the statewide ballot was pre-empted when the Legislature adopted a law to raise the minimum wage, though not as much as Raise Michigan called for. The measure enacted by the Legislature was the result of negotiations involving business groups and lawmakers trying to knock the proposal off the ballot, and possibly garner Democratic support for a gas tax hike also. A potential lawsuit over these convolutions was rendered moot when the state Board of Canvassers ruled that minimum wage supporters had failed to gather enough valid signatures for their initiative.

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See also:

The 'Astroturf' Campaign to Force Employers to Give Paid Sick Time

Why Unions Care About Paid Sick Time

Unions and Complicit Media in Pro-Paid Sick Time Campaign


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