Michigan GOP Defies Voters, Rams ALEC, Koch Priorities Through Lame-Duck Session

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In an astounding power grab, Republicans in Michigan have introduced more than 130 bills in the current lame-duck session. Bills limiting a minimum wage increase and sick leave laws demanded by voters, as well as restrictions on voting, have already been sent to the desk of Governor Rick Snyder, who will be gone by the end of the year, and an anti-union measure requiring public union recertification every two years is under consideration.

All these topics have long been associated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and the Kochs’ Americans for Prosperity astroturf group.

Michigan voters demanded the state take a different direction when they elected Democrat Gretchen Whitmer as Governor. Now the outgoing GOP Senate Majority leader, Arlan Meekhof, and his colleagues in the legislature are attempting to overturn the will of the voters and lock in partisan advantage with an avalanche of lame-duck bills that have been decried as “threatening democracy and accountability” and risking a historic voter backlash in 2020.

Minimizing the Minimum Wage Increase

Michiganders gathered enough signatures to put an increase to the minimum wage on the ballot in November. But before it went to a statewide vote, the Michigan Legislature passed the proposal itself, not to support the measure, but to effectively undercut it.

If Gov. Snyder signs the changes into law, non-tipped minimum-wage workers won’t get a raise to $12 per hour until 2030, rather than 2024, and tipped workers will only make $4 per hour by 2030.

These changes hand a Christmas present to the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and Michigan Restaurant Association, which opposed the wage hikes on the grounds of “business owners’ concerns.”

Soon after the midterm elections, the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) began lobbying Michigan lawmakers to take up the legislation during the “remaining weeks of session,” after calling the citizen-led initiative signed by 252,523 citizens a “shoddily drafted joke of a law.”

Limiting Paid Sick Leave

The legislature has also sent a bill to Snyder limiting the citizen-led paid sick leave law. The changes mean that businesses with 50 or fewer employees will no longer have to offer paid sick days. Previously only businesses with fewer than 10 employees were exempted from the policy.

In addition, employees will have a harder time accruing paid sick days, as they will need to work 35 hours to earn 1 hour of sick time, instead of 30 hours in the citizen-led law.

And citizens had asked for a minimum of 72 hours paid sick leave, but the legislature has now decreased that to 40.

Once again, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce lobbied for the changes, which “represent the real-world input and concerns of job providers across our state,” Wendy Block, vice president of business advocacy said.

Restricting Voting and Oversight of Elections

Michiganders passed automatic voter registration at the polls by a 67-33 percent margin in November, but now the GOP is aiming to put limits on it. Sen. Mike Kowall sponsored omnibus legislation Senate Bills 1238-1242, which would require that those applying for a state driver license or ID card to declare their citizenship in order to qualify for automatic voter registration.

The bills that have passed the Senate also would end voter registration 14 days before an election and allow residents to opt out of automatic voter registration. Wayne State University Law Professor Robert Sedler believes the changes are unconstitutional, because the legislature cannot change a voter-approved constitutional amendment.

Unhappy with Secretary of State-elect Jocelyn Benson’s (D) win, the GOP passed Senate Bills 1248-1252 in order to remove campaign finance regulation from her oversight and create a newly established “Fair Political Practices Commission” composed of three Democrats and three Republicans.

Professor Sedler questions the legality of that change as well, saying “the Legislature could repeal all campaign finance laws if it chose to, but it can’t dictate how existing laws should be enforced, which is an executive function.”

Attacking Unions

Meekhof has sponsored union election bill SB 1260, which if enacted would force unions to recertify their representation of workers every two years. The end result would be to force unions to spend precious resources on internal elections rather than union organizing. The bill bears a striking resemblance to ALEC’s Union Recertification Act, which itself is based on Wisconsin’s Act 10 union-busting legislation that forces annual recertifications.

Meekhof paid ALEC membership dues with taxpayer funds in 2009, during his tenure as a state representative. In 2015, he followed ALEC’s agenda and supported repealing prevailing minimum wage legislation, and he was behind the so-called “right to work” laws that passed in 2012.

“Requiring such disruption every two years would be a nightmare, not only for the public employees’ collective bargaining units, but for public employers who have to deal with and manage the process,” Julie Rowe of the Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers told The Detroit News.

The local right-wing State Policy Network affiliate, Mackinac Center, the Koch brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and the Michigan Freedom Fund, linked to the DeVos family, all support the legislation.

The Michigan Senate also passed legislation making it illegal for union workers to use paid leave for union business, another anti-union measure in the ALEC library.

Advancing Donor Secrecy

Sen. Mike Shirkey has introduced a bill, which passed in the Senate already, that would help “shield donors to non-profit groups that engage in political activities,” according to The Detroit News.

ALEC opposes “attempts to expand the scope and application of donor disclosure requirements” and has a similar model policy to shield the identity of donors to both 501(c)(3) charitable organizations and (c)(4) dark-money groups.

Shirkey, an ALEC member going back to his days as a State Representative, has a documented history of introducing legislation that resembles ALEC model bills.

ALEC-Koch Blueprint

The extraordinary lame-duck session in Michigan follows similar power grabs in North CarolinaWisconsin, and Ohio this month by Republicans who were ousted from state office by voters. To different degrees, all of these lame-duck sessions deal with agenda items borrowed from the ALEC library of priorities.

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Reposted from Exposed

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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