Michigan GOP wants to gut paid sick leave to please big business


Michigan Republicans say employers need protection from the state's sick leave law.

As the lame-duck legislative session begins, Michigan Republicans are working to kill the newly passed sick leave law, and it's all because business groups don't like it.

A progressive group in Michigan collected 380,000 signatures to get a sick leave measure on the ballot in the 2018 election. The GOP-controlled legislature took that choice away from the voters, instead passing their own sick leave bill that they vowed to undermine immediately after the midterms.

Republican Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof complained, "We need to make it more acceptable to the business community, so we keep our economy on track. We don't want to put a roadblock or hindrance in their way."

The existing sick leave law is modest, requiring one hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours of work, for a total of 72 hours per year. Smaller businesses have to provide the same amount of hours, but only 40 of those hours must be paid. So, the law already takes into account the challenges smaller employers may face.

That's not good enough for Republicans like Michigan House Speaker Tom Leonard. In explaining why more accommodations for businesses need to be made, Leonard's spokesperson, Gideon D'Assandro, made an argument that willfully misunderstands how sick leave works: "Let's say you've got a landscaping company with four employees and two of them call in sick. You've got to shut down for the day."

In the world of the Michigan GOP, paid sick leave isn't an option they can even understand. Republicans want to make people work even when they are sick. And they want to penalize people who take sick days by making those days unpaid. Both are designed to do nothing except punish workers, particularly those at low-wage and part-time jobs.

Experts, including doctors, agree sick leave is a necessity, not a frivolity. It ensures a healthy workforce because people don't come to work while ill, risking spreading illness. It ensures healthy and strong families, as parents are available to care for their children.

Business groups, however, have seen these basic rights as disruptions, complaining about things like needing to change their payroll systems to accommodate sick leave payouts. They also complain about the "regulatory burden" of the bill — a burden that seems to be limited to businesses being required to keep track of hours worked and sick leave granted.

Michigan Republicans clearly believe that employers must be protected from the slightest inconvenience, while workers must shoulder the burden of working while sick or losing a job for calling in sick.

If the GOP has their way, the lame-duck session is yet another opportunity to swing the pendulum entirely towards employers again.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.