Weakened minimum wage laws enacted in 2018 called unconstitutional

Michigan Republicans’ lame-duck maneuver to weaken voter-proposed minimum wage and paid sick leave laws was unconstitutional, organizers of the ballot initiatives said in lawsuit filed Tuesday.

The complaint came more than 16 months after the state Supreme Court declined to issue a rare advisory opinion on the legality of the move, which could have prevented a lengthy court fight.

In 2018, the GOP-controlled Legislature engaged in "adopt and amend," a controversial and unprecedented strategy. To prevent minimum wage and sick time ballot drives from going to the electorate, after which they would have been much harder to change if voters had passed them, legislators approved them so they could be made more business-friendly after the election with simple majority votes and the signature of the outgoing Republican governor, Rick Snyder.

The suit — filed against Attorney General Dana Nessel in her official capacity in the state Court of Claims — says the state constitution forbids the Legislature from amending an initiative petition that it has enacted in the same session. The laws are "null and void," and the original bills are "in full force and effect," according to the filing.

One new law gradually increases the state’s minimum wage to $12.05 an hour by 2030, instead of to $12 by 2022, as was initially enacted. It also reversed a provision that would have brought a lower wage for tipped employees in line with the wage for other workers.

The other law exempts employers with fewer than 50 employees from having to provide paid sick days, a change that is estimated to leave up to 1 million employees without the benefit — unlike what was proposed. It also limits the amount of annual mandatory leave at larger employers to 40 hours, instead of 72 hours.

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Plaintiffs include Michigan One Fair Wage and Michigan Time to Care — which organized the ballot drives — other groups and two residents who say they lost out on wages, earned sick days or both.

"What they did was immoral, and unconstitutional," said David Woodward, a former Democratic state legislator and a leader with One Fair Wage. "Today, we go to court to fix a wrong, and raise wages for Michigan workers."

In 2019, Nessel, a newly elected Democrat, declined to review the constitutionality of the move — noting the Supreme Court had agreed to hear arguments. Her predecessor, Republican Bill Schuette, had endorsed the strategy’s legality. The suit accuses Nessel of blocking raises and paid sick time by not superseding or rescinding his opinion. She also refused to issue an opinion after the high court decided not to weigh in early, said Mark Brewer, the plaintiffs’ lawyer.

A spokeswoman for the attorney general declined to comment.