Court ruling blocks minimum wage hike for Michigan workers next month

A Michigan Court of Appeals panel ruled Thursday that the Legislature’s 2018 effort to pass and amend ballot initiatives in the same session was legal, preventing an increase in the state’s minimum wage. state to go into effect next month.

The three-judge panel’s unanimous decision reverses a lower court ruling that would have allowed the state’s minimum wage to drop from $10.10 an hour to $13.03 an hour on Feb. 19 . Tipped workers would see their minimum hourly wage drop from $3.75 to $11.73. per hour under a 2018 voter-initiated law that the legislature amended after it passed.

The appeals court ruled that a Republican-controlled legislature has the constitutional power to change minimum wage and paid sick leave laws that were initiated by citizens through a petition process.

“Because there are no limits on the amendment of laws initiated beyond the initial 40 sessional day period for legislative action, the legislature is free to amend laws passed through of the initiative process during the same legislative session,” said Justice Christopher of the Court of Appeal. Murray said in the majority opinion.

Mark Brewer, an attorney for the groups that backed the proposals, said his clients were disappointed and would appeal to the Michigan Supreme Court.

“My reaction is that 658,000 workers have suffered a setback and families are negatively affected by this decision,” said Chris White, state director of Restaurant Opportunities Centers (ROC) United, a labor advocacy group in the catering who is plaintiff in the case. “We believe that the people who are the frontline workers of the state deserve an increase in the minimum wage, and this should have happened years ago. And it is our responsibility to work together and fight to ensure that this is corrected by obtaining a favorable decision from the Supreme Court.

In 2018, Michigan One Fair Wage circulated petitions for voters to consider a proposal to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022 from $9.25 then, and tie the inflation rate. At the same time, Michigan Time to Care supported a proposal to generally require employers to provide paid sick leave to their workers.

However, the GOP-controlled legislature passed both initiatives before Election Day, preventing the measures from seeing votes statewide.

These measures allowed lawmakers to return after Election Day and change laws by a simple majority. Had voters approved them, future changes would have required a super majority of three-quarters of support in the Legislative Assembly.

Republican lawmakers slowed minimum wage increases so the minimum wage would climb to $12.05 by 2030, eight years later than under the original proposal, and removed the link to inflation for future increases.

Additionally, the legislative version eliminated a provision that sought to raise the minimum wage for tipped workers to match the standard minimum wage in 2024. The current minimum wage for tipped workers is $3.75 from time.

Lawmakers also amended the sick leave law, exempting small businesses that collectively employed more than a million workers from a policy that would initially have applied to all businesses.

Murray ruled Thursday that the legislature’s 40-day delay before amendment after enactment was constitutional and “absent any other prohibition, the legislature was free to alter such public acts as it might. amend any other public document”.

In a concurring opinion, Judge Michael Kelly called the “adopt and amend strategy” “undemocratic”.

“If those responsible for this maneuver are wondering why public opinion polls consistently reject politicians on the virtue of trust, they need look no further than what they did here,” wrote Kelly. “This is a direct attack on one of the rights dear to our founding fathers and the framers of our state constitution: the right of citizens to petition their government.”

But Kelly agreed with the majority view and said the strategy passed the constitutional milestone.

The original voter-initiated law sought to raise the minimum wage for tipped servers to be more in line with the minimum wage that other restaurant workers, such as a dishwasher, are insured for.

Detroit’s Romona Hall, a restaurant industry worker who declined to identify her employer, was involved in the push for a Michigan wage hike with ROC United, the restaurant worker advocacy group that has challenged the Legislative Assembly’s “adopt and amend” strategy to water down the minimum wage law.

Hall, who has been in the industry for about 30 years, said she makes $3.75 an hour plus tips and her pay is hard to predict day-to-day and week-to-week. other.

“It’s not consistent,” she said. “And it’s not something you can count on.”

The proposed increase in the minimum wage, she said, would have helped – but not enough, given the high rate of inflation.

“It would have helped if we had gotten $15 (an hour) three years ago,” she said, “because now everything has gone up so much.”

Hall noted the cost of a dozen eggs, which rose 60% in 2022 and averaged $4.25 in December, more than his hourly minimum wage.

“It makes no sense to me how anything can go up except our salaries,” she said.

Mothering Justice, another group that filed the lawsuit, said it was disappointed with the delay of “the much-needed and deserved wage increase for Michigan workers” as well as those who expected to receive paid sick leave. .

“While today’s court ruling is a setback and another unnecessary delay to common sense economic policy, we are committed to appealing and seeking justice in the Michigan Supreme Court,” said Eboni Taylor. , executive director of Mothering Justice.

The Michigan Restaurant and Lodging Association expressed “relief” with Thursday’s opinion and said it would bring some “certainty” to restaurants and hotels preparing for the Feb. 19 hike.

“Because of this decision, countless restaurants and 50,000 hospitality jobs have been at least temporarily saved,” said Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the association. “We’re optimistic the Michigan Supreme Court will recognize the same and allow this industry to focus on the arduous task of recovering from a pandemic that has so completely decimated it.”

The Michigan Chamber of Commerce said the opinion was “good news for Michigan job providers.”

“If the lower court’s decision had stood, it would have had disastrous consequences for the state’s employers, the general business climate and the economy – all at a time when our state, our communities and our families can least afford it,” said Wendy Block, the chamber’s senior vice president for business advocacy and member engagement.