How Michigan’s Legislature Violated Its Constitution by Gutting a Minimum Wage Law

Michigan Supreme Court Will Hear Oral Argument on July 17; Lawmakers Undermined Will of Voters

Lansing, MI—The National Employment Law Project and the law firm of Salvatore, Prescott & Porter, PLLC filed an amicus brief with the Michigan Supreme Court this week, arguing that the Michigan Legislature’s move to amend and ultimately gut two popular ballot initiative proposals—one to raise the minimum wage, the other to create paid sick days—undermined the will of the voters, in violation of the state constitution.

“The Michigan Legislature brazenly violated the people’s constitutional right to make their own laws when it chose to deprive voters of a say in their own public policies,” said Christine Owens, executive director of the National Employment Law Project. “We urge the state’s high court to vindicate the rights guaranteed in the Constitution of the State of Michigan, and to ensure that working people have a say in their own government once more.”

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Last December, the outgoing, lame-duck, Republican-controlled Michigan Legislature gutted popular proposals by the Michigan One Fair Wage and Michigan Time to Care committees to increase the state minimum wage to $12 by 2022, eliminate the tipped subminimum wage, and require employers to provide workers with sick days. Nearly 800,000 Michiganders had supported putting these proposals on the November ballot. The Legislature’s “adopt and amend” scheme was aimed at depriving struggling workers of modest relief and subverting the will of Michigan voters.

In a move to defend its actions, the Legislature requested an advisory opinion from the Michigan Supreme Court on the new laws’ constitutionality.

NELP’s brief points to the importance of ballot initiatives in giving state voters a say in their economic lives. Ballot initiatives have been used at least 16 times around the nation in the past two decades to ask voters whether to increase state minimum wages—and voters have approved them each time. NELP’s brief argues that “[i]f not for these voter-initiated ballot questions, millions of workers across the country would have had no voice in their own economic lives due to their lack of influence and access at state legislatures.”

More than a dozen other briefs were also filed arguing against the constitutionality of PA 368 and 369, representing dozens of state and national organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, A Better Balance, National Women’s Law Center, Michigan Conference—United Church of Christ, and Voters Not Politicians, among others. Michigan’s current governor and attorney general also filed briefs arguing that the laws were improperly amended.

By 2024, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that nowhere in the entire country, including rural areas, will a single adult without children be able to cover basic costs on less than a $15 minimum wage job with full-time hours. Currently, such a worker needs $15.36 an hour in the Detroit metropolitan area and $15.48 in Grand Rapids.

Minimum wage workers not only are much more likely to experience poverty, but low wages also impact women and workers of color at higher rates. Raising the minimum wage increases consumer spending and can boost demand for goods and services, keeping money circulating in the economy and creating a virtuous cycle benefing workers, businesses, and communities.

Just this year, New Jersey, Illinois, Maryland, and Connecticut have adopted paths to a $15 minimum wage. Since workers in New York first walked out of fast-food jobs in November 2012 to demand a $15 minimum wage and a union, more than 20 states and 40 cities and counties have raised their minimum wage, with raises amounting to more than $68 billion. Additional campaigns to raise the minimum wage are underway at the federal level and in states such as Vermont, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Hawaii, all of which are considering minimum wages of $15 or more per hour.

Read NELP’s amicus brief here.

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