Appeals panel shuts down anticipated increase in Michigan’s minimum wage and sick time

Rally at Cadillac Place state office building on April 22, 2021 to fight for minimum wage increase and paid sick leave. | Ken Coleman photo

By Jon King, Michigan Advance

A court ruling means Michigan’s minimum wage workers will not be seeing a nearly three dollar per hour increase in their pay next month.

Thursday’s Court of Appeals decision overturns a ruling made last July by Court of Claims Judge Douglas Shapiro that rejected 2018 changes made by Republicans in the Michigan Legislature to weaken minimum wage and sick leave laws. The GOP-led Legislature approved two ballot initiatives, thus keeping the issues off the 2018 ballot, but then went in months later and watered down minimum wage and sick leave provisions.

The case is expected to be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.

While Shapiro had the option to implement the pay raise immediately, he instead stayed his decision until Feb. 19 to give employers and state agencies time to implement the pay raise.

However, in a majority opinion authored by Appeals Court Judge Christopher Murray, the appeals panel said Judge Shapiro’s conclusions were not supported by either the text or intent of the law and that the so-called “adopt and amend” strategy employed by Republican lawmakers was constitutional.

“Because there are no limitations with respect to the amendment of initiated laws beyond the initial 40-session day period for legislative action, the Legislature is free to amend laws adopted through the initiative process during the same legislative session,” stated Murray.

The Restaurant Opportunities Centers United was one of the plaintiffs in the case. Director Chris White excoriated the decision.

“The Court of Appeals decision is on the wrong side of history. This is another travesty of justice,” said White, director for. “When it comes to grit and determination, Michigan workers are holding strong and know our day of justice will ultimately prevail.” 

Had the Court of Claims ruling stood, more than 600,000 Michigan workers who currently earn $10.10 per hour would have seen their pay increase on Feb. 19 to $13.03 an hour, while tipped workers earning $3.75 an hour would have had their wages rise to $11.73 an hour plus tips. 

In addition, the 2018 ballot measure included a sick leave initiative that would have garnered workers an hour of paid sick time for every 30 hours worked, while the amended version upped that to 40 hours and restricted it to businesses that employ at least 50 people.

Eboni Taylor, executive director of Mothering Justice, another plaintiff in the case, called Thursday’s ruling a “devastating blow” to Michiganders that deserve paid sick time. 

“The people of Michigan have long waited for earned paid sick time changes to be actualized,” said Taylor. “Everyone deserves and needs paid time off to take care of themselves or family members, and our economy will see the benefit of a labor ecosystem that honors this. We cannot delay any longer. While today’s court ruling is a setback and another needless delay to a commonsense economic policy, we vow to appeal and seek justice before Michigan’s Supreme Court.” 

Business groups cheered the decision, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce which had filed an amicus brief seeking a reversal.

Wendy Block, senior vice president of business advocacy and member engagement for the Michigan Chamber said the ruling was welcome news for Michigan’s job providers.

“If the lower court’s ruling had been left to stand, it would have had dire consequences on the state’s employers, overall business climate and economy – all at a time when our state, communities and families can least afford it,” said Block in a statement.

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