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Michigan Chamber of Commerce: Union-Backed Ballot Proposals Will Harm Business

Employers may find it hard to manage their business under paid leave measure

MIDLAND - Two union-backed ballot proposals with positive polling numbers could cause major headaches for Michigan employers, according to the chief government affairs official of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.

Wendy Block, the chamber’s vice president of business advocacy, explained to a group of Midland-area members of her organization what she thought would happen were voters to approve two statewide ballot measures in the November general election. One of the proposals would further raise Michigan’s minimum wage, and the other would impose a paid leave mandate on employers. The chamber, she said, opposes both.

Most questions from the audience on Wednesday were generated by the paid leave proposal. At one point, Block talked about what some labor law attorneys have said of it.

“That’s my impression, speaking to labor law attorneys, that this is kind of like ‘doomsday,’ in that the minute you take steps [to punish an employee for missing work or being late], they [workers] say, ‘well I used my right to paid sick leave.’ And people will be advised to use that [legal defense],” Block said.

Block said that she believes many provisions in the proposed law are ambiguous and will have to be worked out in the courts.

The measure would require businesses with 10 or more employees to give workers one hour of earned sick time for every 30 hours worked and allow employees to use up to 72 hours of sick time a year. Block said that the procedures specified by the proposal would make it very difficult for employers to manage their operations.

Kyle DuBuc, the director of public policy and advocacy at United Way for Southeastern Michigan, was at the meeting and declined to comment on whether the paid leave measure would open businesses up to lawsuits. He said that the Michigan Legislature has previously squashed numerous bills that would have mandated paid leave.

“I think this measure aligns with the mission of our organization, and would be good for all Michigan families. The majority of people who have no paid sick leave time are currently in the service industry, they’re in adult care, they’re in child care, places where we definitely don't want people to have a financial incentive to go to work sick,” DuBuc said. “So, this is a good policy across the board as well as for the families that will directly benefit.”

Block also talked about the minimum wage ballot proposal, which would impose a mandatory minimum wage of $12 per hour beginning on January 1, 2022, and index the wage to inflation going forward. It would also phase out a separate minimum wage for tipped-employees (mostly restaurant workers) by 2024.

The Michigan business group is opposed to the measure, Block said, who added that Michigan’s minimum wage is already the highest in the region and already tied to the inflation rate.

“We know $12 an hour isn’t the goal; $15 an hour is the goal,” Block said. “In Hawaii, they’re talking about a $22 minimum wage.”

Block said that Michigan law currently allows for a lower mandatory minimum for tipped workers, with employers require to close the gap if the lower rate plus a worker’s tips does not add up to the regular minimum wage.

Both proposals are “initiated legislation,” which means they go on the ballot unless lawmakers pass them within a prescribed time period. The governor has no role in this scenario. Block thinks the Republican-controlled Legislature will not take up the measures, which means they will appear on the Nov. 6 ballot.