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Mich. Supreme Court to rule soon on minimum wage, earned time off

Wide exterior shot of state Supreme Court building
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

One of the most anticipated decisions this year from the Michigan Supreme Court will soon determine the fate of the state’s minimum wage and earned sick leave laws. A decision is expected soon as the Supreme Court session wraps up at the end of the month.

The controversy started in 2018, when Republicans adopted petition-initiated proposals to boost the state minimum wage to $12 by 2022 and another allowing employees to bank paid sick leave.

The Legislature’s GOP majorities opposed the initiatives but adopted them instead of letting them go to the ballot, where it appeared very likely they would win voter approval. Then, in the lame duck session, Republicans acted on an untested legal theory and amended the bills to make them more employer-friendly with simple majority votes and not by the super-majorities that would be required in future sessions. Republican then-Governor Rick Snyder signed the bills over the protests of Democrats.

The petition campaign and progressive groups cried foul and filed this legal challenge. If they win, the hourly wage could quickly jump from the current $10.33 an hour to over $13 an hour.

There is a lot at stake in the case, especially for smaller businesses, said Wendy Block, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce senior vice president of business advocacy.

“Michigan employers are on edge about this decision,” she said, “because the outcome will have cascading and costly effects for employers across all industries and could very well end up hurting the very employees that proponents of this lawsuit are trying to protect.”

Danielle Atkinson is the national executive director of Mothering Justice, one of the plaintiffs. She said what's at stake is the right of people to use the petition process without being undercut by the Legislature.

"We are hoping and expecting a good result from the Supreme Court,” she told the Michigan Public Radio Network. “We hope they rule in favor of democracy, in favor of our ability to trust the ballot initiative process to be fair and uphold the will of the people.”

If Mothering Justice wins, the court system would have to craft or approve a plan to restore the minimum wage to the initiative’s original intent. Atkinson said the fair thing for minimum wage workers would be to immediately increase their paychecks to what they would have been.

“Prices go up every year,” she said. “People’s daily and family needs go up every year and so we made it with that in mind.”

Lower courts split on the case. The Michigan Court of Claims held the Legislature violated the Michigan Constitution. The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed that decision and upheld the Legislature’s lame duck actions.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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