Legislative Update

LEGISLATIVE UPDATE

MINIMUM WAGE AND PAID SICK TIME UPDATE

 

Last year, activists collected the required number of signatures on two voter initiatives to bring them before the legislature: an increase in the state’s minimum wage and a requirement for employers to provide earned paid sick time. Under the Michigan constitution, the legislature can either enact a voter initiative into law or allow it to go on the ballot. If a voter initiative goes on the ballot and is passed by the voters, it cannot be changed by the legislature without a ¾ supermajority vote in both the house and senate. In contrast, if the legislature enacts a voter initiative into law, it can later change the law with a simple majority vote in the house and senate.

 

In September 2018, the legislature enacted both the minimum wage and paid sick time initiatives into law. The Republicans were willing to do so to allow them to later amend the laws by simple majority vote, thereby weakening them and watering them down. In December 2018, the Republican majorities did exactly that, and Governor Snyder signed the amendments into law.

  

The Republican amendment on the minimum wage measure has the effect of delaying the increase in the wage to $12/hour from 2022 to 2030 (about the time it would have gotten there under the cost-of-living increases already provided for in the state’s previously existing minimum wage law). Moreover, the Republican amendment means that the minimum wage for tipped workers will remain only 38% of the regular minimum wage (increasing from $3.52/hour now to only $4.58/hour by 2030), instead of becoming 100% of the regular minimum wage by 2024 (a more than threefold increase to more than $12/hour by 2024).

 

The Republican amendment on the paid sick time measure has the effect of exempting hundreds of thousands of workers in Michigan from its provisions. Moreover, the Republican amendment reduces the amount of paid sick time that can be accrued and makes it harder to use the accrued time.

 

EFFORTS TO FULLY RESTORE PRISON FOOD SERVICE

 

Last year, the Snyder administration relented after nearly four years of his failed experiment of privatizing prison food service (and the security breaches, food losses, and prisoner riots it caused) and agreed to in-source prison food service.

 

However, the Snyder administration was only willing to go half-way to restoring the previous, successful arrangement. Specifically, the administration was only willing to reinstate AFSCME positions to the status of “cooks,” instead of “food service supervisors.” That means the AFSCME positions will receive lower pay and less security training than under the previous arrangement.

 

We will continue to work towards full restoration of the “food service supervisor” positions. We now have a more sympathetic ear with the new administration of Governor Whitmer.

 

LGBT PROTECTIONS FROM THE CIVIL RIGHTS COMMISSION

 

In May of last year, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission voted to expand its interpretation of the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to extend protections against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, education, housing, and public accommodation. In response, the Republican House Speaker and Senate Majority Leader asked then-Attorney General Bill Schuette for an official opinion on whether the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act prohibits such discrimination. Unsurprisingly, Schuette issued a written attorney general opinion in July stating that the civil rights law does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and that the Civil Rights Commission’s interpretation was legally incorrect.

 

On February 1, the Michigan Civil Rights Commission met to consider whether to request a new opinion from recently-elected Attorney General Dana Nessel, who has been a longtime champion of LGBT equality. AFSCME Council 25 testified at the hearing in support of the Commission requesting a new opinion from Nessel, who welcomed the opportunity to provide a written attorney general opinion on the matter. Later that day, the Commission voted to request a new opinion from Attorney General Nessel, who will likely issue it this month or next.

 

GOVERNOR’S EXECUTIVE ORDER & REPUBLICAN DISAPPROVAL

 

On February 4, Governor Whitmer signed Executive Order 2019-2, creating the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. The executive order renamed the former Department of Environmental Quality and reorganized its structure. Most importantly, it eliminated three business-dominated entities that the Republican legislature and governor established last year: the environmental rules review committee, the environmental permit review commission, and the environmental science advisory board. These commissions were established with the goal of allowing outside groups, especially business special interests to block environmental regulations that they disagree with.

 

Not surprisingly, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and its Republican allies in the legislature were not pleased with the elimination of their special-interest fiefdoms. Under the state constitution, the legislature can void an executive order if both the House and the Senate pass a resolution disapproving of the executive order. On February 6, they introduced House Concurrent Resolution (HCR) 1 and passed it out of the House on the very same day, along strict party lines. The following week, the Senate also passed HCR 1 along strict party lines, thereby blocking the Governor’s restructuring of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy. AFSCME Council 25 testified before the House Government Operations Committee and the Senate Oversight Committee against HCR 1 and in support of protecting our state’s clean air and water.

 

GOVERNOR WHITMER’S STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS

 

                Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s state-of-the-state address focused on five main priorities:

(1)    Fixing the Damn Roads – the Governor emphasized the importance of enacting long-term fixes to deteriorating roads and bridges and pointed out that delaying action will only increase the rate of decay.

(2)    Investing in Education – the Governor emphasized that the state needs to support the great work of educators, instead of demonizing educators, and she was clear that increased investments in education are desperately needed.

(3)    Protecting Clean Water – the Governor emphasized that addressing PFAS contamination in parts of the state is every bit as important as addressing the water contamination in Flint.

(4)    Ensuring LGBT Equality – the Governor called on the legislature to amend the state’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, education, public accommodation, and, especially, the workplace.

(5)    Increasing Government Transparency – the Governor called on the legislature to expand the state’s Freedom of Information Act to the governor’s office and to enact a similar government transparency law for the legislature.

 

AFSCME Council 25 strongly supports all five goals.

 

GOVERNOR WHITMER’S PROPOSED BUDGET

 

AFSCME Council 25 supports the Governor’s proposed 3% increases in funding for K-12 education, 3% increases in funding for higher education at colleges and universities, and 3% increases in funding for local revenue sharing for cities, townships, and counties. These investments would be a big step toward restoring funding that was decimated by the decisions of Governor Rick Snyder.