What’s Happening in Michigan Is Worse Than You Thought

The efforts of Republican state legislators in Wisconsin and Michigan after the midterms are getting a lot of attention. Most of the reporting has focused on their attempts to strip power from incoming Democratic officials and to preemptively implement voter suppression efforts. Here is how Paul Waldman summarized what is happening in Michigan.

Republicans are responding to a Democratic sweep of statewide offices by giving the legislature the ability to overrule the attorney general on state lawsuits and take authority over campaign finance regulation away from the secretary of state. They are also considering a bill to cut off voter registration 14 days before every election, in effect overruling a same-day registration initiative voters just passed.

But that isn’t all that Republicans are attempting to do in that state. To understand what else they’re up to, we need to go back to what happened before the election.

Michigan activists had organized to get enough signatures to put a couple of items on the ballot: an increase in the minimum wage and paid sick leave for all workers. If those initiatives had been approved by voters, a two-thirds majority in the legislature would be needed to amend them.

In September, both of those measures were passed, exactly as written, by the state legislature, ensuring they would be removed from the ballot. Over the last week, however, Republican legislators have amended them via a simple majority vote.

The minimum wage law would have increased the state’s meager $9.25 per hour minimum wage to $12 per hour by 2022, and included a $12 per hour minimum for tipped employees. The Republican changes slow the increase to $12.05 per hour by 2030, and caps the increase for tipped workers at $4.58 per hour.

Adjusted for inflation, the new minimum wage increase could end up being a pay cut for the state’s lowest earners.

The paid sick time law would require employers to provide 72 hours of sick time annually, or nine days, while allowing one hour of sick time accrual for every 30 hours worked. The Republican amendment would reduce the number of sick days to four and exempts businesses with fewer than 50 employees, which represent about 1 million of the state’s roughly 4.2 million workers. It would also require employees to work 40 hours to earn one hour of medical leave.

Those are the particulars about what Republican legislators did to these initiatives. But it is the cravenness of their plot that is most galling. They knew that voters would overwhelmingly support these changes, making it difficult—if not impossible—to amend them. So two months before the election, they crafted a plan that would take the decision out of the hands of voters and, instead, give themselves the power to do as they please.

Over the last few years, we’ve witnessed many examples of how Republicans have been willing to spit in the face of our democratic principles to maintain their power. But this one should probably take its place at the top of the list. Could it be any more obvious that Republicans have nothing but contempt for the voting public? If this little charade is allowed to stand, what it will take to wake people up to that reality?

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .