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Michigan GOP plots to gut sick leave law before new governor arrives

GOP legislators are looking to undermine a sick leave law during Michigan’s lame-duck legislative session, regardless of what voters want.

By Lisa Needham - November 26, 2018
Michigan Republican Arlan Meekhof 11-26-18

By electing progressive, pro-labor Gretchen Whitmer as governor, Michigan voters sent a decisive message that they favored the sort of values Whitmer ran on, including more rights for workers.

But that message isn’t sitting well with the conservative majority in the Michigan legislature. Led by the state Senate’s Republican majority leader Arlan B. Meekhof, the Michigan GOP is targeting the state’s sick leave law ahead of Whitmer taking office in January 2019.

Prior to the 2018 midterm election, voters had gathered enough signatures to get a sick leave measure on the ballot. Fearing what voters actually had to say on the issue, the GOP passed their own sick leave bill earlier this year — and not because they cared about sick folks in Michigan.

They did it because if voters passed the sick leave law it would take a three-fourths majority of the legislature to overturn it. But, with the legislature passing the law, it only takes a simple majority to undo it. And Michigan Republicans lost their supermajority in the House and Senate after the 2018 elections, leaving them without the power to block a voter-led initiative in the coming session.

After passing the sick leave law, the GOP immediately admitted they would substantially alter — or get rid of entirely — the law.

The sick leave provision currently provides for 72 hours of paid sick leave for both full- and part-time employees, one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. All employers are covered by the law, but employers with fewer than 10 employees only need offer 40 hours of paid leave, with the remaining 32 unpaid. The law also prohibits employers from retaliating against workers who assert that their right to use sick time was violated.

The GOP majority has already indicated they want to weaken that protection against retaliation. They also want to drastically cut down on the length of time businesses are required to keep records of hours worked and sick time earned, from three years to just six months. Both of these changes would substantially weaken the law by making it more difficult for workers to track whether they’re receiving sick time they’re owed — and more risky to make a complaint about it.

Some GOP legislators are going so far as to say that the entire sick leave law should be scrapped because they believe most signatures in favor of putting the measure on the ballot came from Detroit, Flint, and Lansing, and those voters don’t actually represent the will of voters elsewhere in the state.

Regardless of whether all of this is permissible under Michigan’s legislative rules, it reflects a deeply cynical way of governing. The GOP outright said they passed a law just to take the choice away from voters so that they can undo that law later, and they’ve issued a racist dog whistle loud and clear: the only people that want things like sick leave are minorities that live in urban areas, not the “real” voters in other parts of the state.

This isn’t governance. It’s imposing the will of the GOP on Michigan voters regardless of what those voters want. And if the GOP has their way, the lame-duck session will allow them to do just that.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

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