As the country continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan has recently been struggling to recover from an April spike in cases. Unfortunately, many workers across Michigan have been unable to take paid sick time to care for themselves and their loved ones—both throughout the pandemic and during the State’s recent surge of COVID-19 cases—risking their health and furthering the spread of COVID-19 in the community. A lawsuit filed this month would fundamentally change access to paid sick time across the State, by challenging the State Legislature’s appalling—and we believe, unconstitutional—move to prevent voters from approving a comprehensive paid sick time ballot initiative.
In 2017, we worked with our partners on the ground in Michigan to research and draft a ballot initiative in Michigan that would guarantee earned sick time to all workers in the State. The proposed initiative gained enough signatures to qualify for the 2018 general election ballot. Under Michigan State law, once a proposed initiative receives enough signatures, the Legislature has to either adopt the initiative as written or send it to voters. The Michigan Legislature decided to adopt the initiative—along with an initiative to raise Michigan’s minimum wage—rather than send it to voters, with the declared intent to significantly weaken the laws during the lame duck session that followed the 2018 election. Due to the Legislature’s actions, the State’s paid sick leave law is a shell of what it should be; the weakened law leaves out millions of workers, reduced the purposes for leave, narrowed the law’s family definition, cut the amount of available paid sick time, and weakened the law’s protections against retaliation.
In 2019, we joined our partners in Michigan and submitted an amicus brief to the Michigan Supreme Court requesting that they rule against the Legislature’s “adopt and amend” actions. Since the Michigan Constitution grants Michigan voters the right to place important public issues on the ballot and because the lame duck Legislature violated that right, we believe the Legislature’s changes to be unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to issue an advisory opinion on the matter, but it left the question open in case of formal litigation.
Now that formal litigation has been filed, we hope that the residents of Michigan receive justice on this issue. The COVID-19 pandemic underscored the terrible consequences—for public health and economic justice—of the Legislature’s actions, since millions of Michiganders have been unable to take paid sick leave during this public health and financial crisis. We hope the Michigan courts restore the fundamental right to paid sick time to workers across the State and prevent the Legislature from thwarting the people’s ballot initiative rights.