Michigan Supreme Court to Take Up Minimum Wage Case—and Possibly Put More Money in Your Pocket

The Michigan Hall of Justice is headquarters for the state's judicial branch of government. (Photo via Greater Lansing Convention and Visitors' Bureau)

By Kyle Kaminski

June 22, 2023

The minimum wage in Michigan is up in the air. And within the next few months, the state Supreme Court will decide where it lands.

LANSING—The Michigan Supreme Court said Wednesday it will hear a major case involving changes to the state’s minimum wage and paid sick leave laws, as well as the power of lawmakers to interfere with the results of citizen-led petition drives to amend state laws. 

And depending on how the court rules, their decision could help put more money into the pockets of low-wage workers across Michigan—especially those in the restaurant industry.

Here’s the deal:

The current minimum hourly wage in Michigan is $10.10, up from $9.87 last year and $9.65 in 2021. For tipped employees like bartenders and servers, it’s $3.75. Employees who are 16 and 17 years old can be paid less—85% of the minimum wage, or $8.59 an hour this year. 

More than 280,000 Michiganders signed a petition in 2018 to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022, followed by annual inflation adjustments, and eliminating a lower tipped wage. That was enough for the initiative to become law by a simple majority vote of the Legislature.

But in Michigan, there’s an odd little nuance in the state Constitution that allows state lawmakers to get the first crack at any citizen-initiated changes to state laws before they go onto the books.

That’s exactly what happened here.

Two months after voting to adopt the law, Republican lawmakers quickly tore it apart—ultimately delaying those increases until 2030—and now 2031, since high unemployment rates during the pandemic pushed back the timetable. As a result, the state minimum wage has stagnated. 

Following years of legal challenges, Court of Claims Judge Douglas Shapiro ruled last year that the Legislature violated the state Constitution and thwarted the will of the people by watering down the wage increases. In January, a state appeals court disagreed and reversed the ruling.

Now, the Michigan Supreme Court could have the final say.

The court announced this week it will hear arguments in the case in the months ahead.

Lawmakers can really do that?

Yep—for now. State 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 decided to make several fundamental changes two months later.

As part of the case, the state Supreme Court is set to decide whether that tactic—known as “adopt and amend”—is constitutional, which could have an impact on all future citizen initiatives.

It’s worth noting: Workers who rely on tips can be paid much less by their employers. If the original citizen-led changes 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—and also crossed out language that would’ve required small businesses with 50 or fewer employees to offer paid sick leave to all of their employees. 

So, it’s just a waiting game?

Yep. While the minimum wage proposal is being considered by the state Supreme Court, it’s out of voters’ hands. But they may eventually have a say in the matter during next year’s election.

In 2024, Michiganders will likely be able to vote on a new ballot measure—Raise the Wage Michigan—to increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour over time. 

The petition has collected the number of signatures needed to qualify for the 2024 ballot; it’s just awaiting a final seal of approval from state election officials. If approved, it would hike the minimum wage by $1 every year until it hits $15 an hour, and allow the rate to continue climbing regardless of unemployment rates. Tipped wages would eventually climb past $15 an hour, too.

Couldn’t lawmakers just hijack that one too?

That’s where the court case and the new ballot initiative come together. If Shapiro’s decision striking down the “adopt and amend” provision ends up sticking in the state Supreme Court, the legislature won’t be able to tamper with the changes. They would be limited to adopting the proposal outright, or sending it to the ballot for Michiganders to vote on directly when it reaches the November 2024 ballot. 

What could a higher minimum wage do for Michigan?

A higher minimum wage wouldn’t just offer more money to low-wage employees.

Research shows that raising wages—even a modest amount—would improve worker productivity, and reduce employee turnover and absenteeism. Studies also show that a higher minimum wage can boost the overall economy by generating increased consumer demand.

‘Gander Community Reporter Isaac Constans contributed to this report. 

For the latest Michigan news, follow The ‘Gander on Twitter.

Follow Political Correspondent Kyle Kaminski here.

Author

  • Kyle Kaminski

    Kyle Kaminski is an award-winning investigative journalist with more than a decade of experience covering news across Michigan. Prior to joining The ‘Gander, Kyle worked as the managing editor at City Pulse in Lansing and as a reporter for the Traverse City Record-Eagle.

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