Minimum wage is up in the air in Michigan. And over the next several months, lawsuits, lawmakers, and voters are expected to decide where it eventually lands.
MICHIGAN—With so much happening, it can be hard to keep track of where everything stands with minimum wage in Michigan. So, here’s your five-minute primer, beginning with where we stand today:
Isn’t there a push to bring that up to $12 an hour?
Yep. In 2018, a petition to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour garnered enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. But in Michigan, there’s an odd little nuance in our Constitution that allows our Legislature to get the first crack at any citizen-initiated changes in state laws—and that exactly what happened here.
Lawmakers can either vote to adopt citizen initiatives with a simple majority, or let them continue to the ballot. In the case of minimum wage, the Legislature adopted the proposal—but then quickly tore it apart.
Two months after taking up the law, Republican lawmakers tweaked provisions that would’ve upped minimum wage to $10 in 2019 and $12 by 2022, ultimately delaying those increases until 2030—and now 2031, since high unemployment rates during the pandemic pushed back the timetable.
It’s worth noting: Right now, workers who rely on tips can be paid much less by their employers than workers who are paid mainly through wages. If it hadn’t been watered down by Republican lawmakers, the ballot initiative would’ve eventually leveled the playing field between tipped and non-tipped staff.
But the Legislature erased that clause—as well as crossed out language that would’ve required small businesses with 50 or fewer employees to offer paid sick leave to all of their employees.
Can the legislature make such dramatic changes to laws that are written up by citizens?
That’s the subject of a lawsuit that was filed in 2021 by employees who claimed they lost out on wages, and the groups who sponsored the petition drive. The case seeks to restore the original language of the 2018 minimum wage ballot initiative, as well as restore the sick time allowances gutted by lawmakers.
And as it stands right now: No. The Legislature’s actions were unconstitutional.
In June 2022, Michigan Court of Claims Judge Douglas Shapiro ruled against the Legislature—finding that former Attorney General Bill Schuette and Republican lawmakers had violated the intent of the Constitution and a precedent established by former Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelly.
Shapiro ordered minimum wage to be ratcheted up to $12.
Why haven’t you seen a raise?
Shapiro’s ruling came with a caveat: No changes until February 2023.
He stated a few reasons for the wait:
- First, he needs to allow all appeals to make their way through the court system. That process is underway right now. A successful appeal to the June 2022 ruling could overturn Shapiro’s decision, and keep the Legislature’s watered-down wage bill in place.
- This change has major ramifications for how people do business in Michigan. Companies need plenty of time to plan accordingly, in case they need to pay employees significantly higher wages.
So, it’s just a waiting game?
The $12-an-hour minimum wage proposal is being volleyed by the courts. That specific proposal is out of voters’ hands while the courts sort out appeals and the state Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity hashes out a concrete plan on how to bring the state’s employers into compliance.
But voters will eventually have a say in the matter. They’ll just have to wait until 2024.
What happens in 2024?
In 2024, Michiganders will likely be able to vote on a new measure—Raise the Wage Michigan—this time to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over time. The petition has collected the signatures needed to qualify for the 2024 ballot; it’s just awaiting a final seal of approval from state election officials.
Here’s what it would do:
- Minimum wage would climb by $1 every year until it hits $15 an hour.
- That rate would keep climbing regardless of the unemployment rate. This is new.
- After it hits $15 an hour, inflation adjustments would come into play.
- Tipped employees would eventually receive a $15 an hour minimum wage as well.
The full language of the petition can be found here.
Couldn’t lawmakers just hijack this one too?
That’s where the lawsuit and the ballot initiative come together.
If Shapiro’s decision holds, the Legislature won’t be able to tamper with this one.
They would either be able to adopt it outright, or send it to the ballot for Michiganders to vote on it directly when it reaches the November 2024 ballot. You’ll have plenty of time to do your research.
What are people saying about minimum wage increases?
We’ll keep it short. Business associations are generally opposed to ramping up the minimum wage, saying that they can’t afford it. Employees, on the other hand, say they need the money to survive at a time of record inflation, and when corporations are raking in massive profits.
This is a whale of a topic, with no easy answers.
Stay tuned for continued coverage.