Board of Canvassers OKs two Dem recall petitions, deadlocks on $15 minimum wage proposal

Detroit activist Brenda Hill hoists a “Wages” sign during a rally at Cadillac Place state office building on April 22, 2021 to fight for minimum wage increase and paid sick leave.(Michigan Advance/Ken Coleman)

By Michigan Advance

October 23, 2023

BY LILY GUINEY, MICHIGAN ADVANCE

MICHIGAN—The Board of State Canvassers approved two petitions and deadlocked on another in a Friday special meeting.

Petitions to recall state Reps. Noah Arbit (D-West Bloomfield) and Betsy Coffia (D-Traverse City) passed the board after earlier attempts failed this summer. The board—which is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans—also deadlocked on a ballot proposal to gradually raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $15 an hour after a dispute over the petition’s language.

The petitions against Arbit and Coffia were part of a series of recall efforts against Democratic lawmakers who voted in favor of hate crimes legislation and “red flag” gun violence prevention laws. Petitions were filed in an attempt to recall six Democrats and two Republicans in July, and all but one were rejected during the August meeting of the Board of State Canvassers.

Four petitions were refiled against Arbit, Coffia and Reps. Reggie Miller (D-Belleville) and Jennfier Conlin (D-Ann Arbor), only to be rejected by the board again in late August. Now, on the third attempt, the petitions to recall Coffia and Arbit have been greenlit to appear in front of voters in their districts.

The Raise the Wage petition, which would heighten Michigan’s current minimum wage of $10.10 to $13, then $14 and $15 by 2025, was rejected after canvassers deadlocked about a change in wording in the statement of the petition itself.

In the first draft of language, the petition stated that any employer with at least two employees would be subject to the wage raise. This was later changed to include employers with at least one employee, and the two was crossed out of the official text.

Somewhere within the process of circulating the petition for approval in 2022, the text was altered to appear as though the petition would only require employers with at least 21 employees to raise wages—a change that would exempt approximately 90% of Michigan employers from the law, if passed.

Mark Brewer, an attorney representing Raise the Wage who’s also a former Michigan Democratic Party chair, said that the change was intentional, but didn’t explain why the petition had been changed to only subject a small minority of businesses to the law.

The canvassers deadlocked along party lines on whether or not to approve the petition. Republican member Tony Daunt said that changing petition language in a way that drastically impacts the scope of the proposed law is misleading to voters who signed in its support.

“Here we have a well-organized effort with lots of funding that either changed something randomly without letting us know or made a mistake and are simply not owning up to it,” Daunt said. “I think this is a clear no vote for me.”

Democratic Chair Mary Ellen Gurewitz said she didn’t believe the language was so misleading that the petition should be held from the ballot.

“I have looked carefully at the petition summary,” Gurewitz said. “I think it is accurate.”

One Fair Wage’s next move will be to file a lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Appeals. If an appeal is won, the question of Raise the Wage will appear on the ballot in November 2024.

Michigan Opportunity, a coalition of business owners and organizations, testified in opposition to the petition before the board. John Sellek, a spokesperson for the group, said in a statement that Michigan Opportunity commended the canvassers for rejecting Raise the Wage.

“The Raise the Wage Michigan proposal is a sloppy, haphazard scheme that disrespects our electoral system and the intelligence of voters,” Sellek said. “It has no place on the ballot.”

Ahead of the board meeting, One Fair Wage, one of the petition’s sponsors, released a statement this week announcing that the petition had exceeded the threshold for the required number of signatures to appear on the ballot, pending the approval of the canvassers.

Saru Jayaraman, president of One Fair Wage, said after the meeting that the group intends to sue for a place on the ballot. In the statement, she said that the example of raised wage propositions in Chicago can serve as success stories for hourly and tipped workers.

“This initiative speaks volumes about the collective voice of Michiganders,” Jayaraman said. “It’s a decisive move away from the silent crisis endured by countless workers barely surviving on the current minimum wage. In a climate where cities like Chicago are abolishing the subminimum wage for tipped workers, Michigan’s proposition to standardize fair pay is not just crucial, it’s urgent.”

This coverage was republished from Michigan Advance pursuant to a Creative Commons license. 

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CATEGORIES: POLITICS | VOTING

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