Published in Health Care

If Legislature weakens paid sick leave law, advocates threaten new petition drive

BY Friday, November 30, 2018 12:06pm

Backers of a law mandating paid sick leave in Michigan say they’ll launch a new petition drive to put the issue on the 2020 ballot if lawmakers weaken it during the lame-duck legislative session in Lansing.

MI Time to Care plans to submit paperwork with the state on Monday to start a new petition drive. The collation last summer submitted 380,000 petition signatures to get the issue placed on the November ballot.

The Republican-controlled state Legislature opted instead to enact the law, a maneuver that allows legislators to make changes with a simple majority vote. If the law were passed by voters, it would require a three-quarters vote to alter.

MI Time to Care’s decision to prepare for another petition drive follows action this week by the state Senate to significantly weaken the law and send the bill on to the House.

“We are very willing to sit down and figure out a way forward legislatively, but repeated requests to be brought to the table have been ignored,” Danielle Atkinson, co-chair of MI Time to Care, said in a statement Thursday evening.

“At this point, we have no choice but to move forward and pass this at the ballot box. We are ready to get started and have the funding partners carry it through to victory,” Atkinson said. “Our coalition and funding partners will not stop until Michigan has a viable paid sick time law that covers every Michigan worker.”

The coalition also promised a lawsuit if changes are finalized and signed into law, claiming a 1964 attorney general opinion that says legislators enacting laws originated by citizen’s petition  cannot change it in the same legislative session.

As the law now stands, all full-time and part-time workers in Michigan accrue paid sick leave after 90 days on the job at the rate of one hour per every 30 hours worked.

Workers at companies with nine of fewer employees could earn up to 40 paid hours and 32 unpaid hours to use in a year. Workers at larger companies could earn up to 72 hours of paid sick leave to use in a year, and carry those forward.

The law also includes provisions such as defining who’s eligible to accrue paid sick leave.

The state Senate on Wednesday passed amendments to the law that would exempt employers with 50 or fewer employees, push the waiting period to one year, make the accrual one hour for 40 hours worked, and cap the amount of paid sick leave a worker can accrue at 36 hours. The Senate law, which now goes to the state House for consideration, also would cover only part-time workers if they have been on the job at least a year and worked more than 1,250 hours for the same employer.

The state Senate also passed changes to a minimum wage law that originated under the same circumstances with a petition drive. That bill would extend to 2030 — instead of 2022 — a phased-in increase in the state’s minimum wage from $9.25 an hour to $12 an hour.

Business advocates have pushed hard for changes in both laws and hailed the Senate action.

“Without changes, Michigan’s new mandatory paid sick leave law would make Michigan an outlier in the Midwest and jeopardize our state’s competitiveness,” said Jim Holcomb, executive vice president and general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Charles Owens, state director for the National Federation of Independent Businesses in Michigan, called the current law an “extreme and poorly drafted sick leave proposal forced on employers by outside special interest groups.”

Disputing fears

In pushing the first petition drive and the second effort for 2020, MI Time to Care positions paid sick leave in part as a public health issue, particularly for people who work in restaurants and the foodservice industry when they have to decide between losing a day’s pay or going to work sick.

“Do we want them going to work and exposing people to illness?” said David Waymire, a spokesman for MI Time to Care.

Michigan is the latest state in the U.S. to have a law mandating paid sick time.

A September report from the Kalamazoo-based W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research noted that support for mandated paid sick leave “has grown substantially in the United States” in the last decade. Several large cities have local laws, along with California, Oregon and Massachusetts. As well, Vermont, Arizona and Washington also recently passed paid sick leave legislation, according to the Upjohn Institute.

The institute analyzed laws in nine cities and four states and concluded that “neither employment nor wage growth has been significantly affected by U.S. sick pay mandates” and that employees, based on how the laws are designed, tend to use their paid sick days responsibly.

“Because earned sick days represent a personalized insurance credit for future health shocks (similar to health savings accounts) that are likely to occur (e.g., flu or disease of child), we expect shirking to play a minimal role for most employees,” the authors wrote in the report.

However, the Upjohn Institute did note its analysis had limitations and that “wages and employment could still be significantly affected due to administrative burdens or psychological effects when employers overestimate the actual relevance for their businesses,” but researchers found “that this was very likely not the case.”

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