LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A move by Republicans in the 2018 Michigan Legislature to weaken minimum wage and sick leave laws was declared constitutional by an appeals court Thursday, reversing a lower court’s ruling last year that would have increased minimum wage in the state by nearly $3 in February.
The Michigan Court of Appeals’ unanimous decision stops minimum wage in the state from increasing from $10.10 to $13.03 on Feb. 2 and keeps current wage and benefit requirements intact.
The decision will be appealed to the Michigan Supreme Court.
In July of last year, a judge on the Court of Claims threw out changes made late in 2018 as Republican Gov. Rick Snyder was near the end of his term and Democrats were preparing to take over top statewide posts.
Advocates had turned in enough signatures to raise the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022 and eventually eliminate a lower tipped wage in the restaurant industry. The minimum wage now is $10.10 per hour, less for tipped workers. There was also a successful petition drive to expand sick leave opportunities.
The Legislature adopted both in 2018 instead of letting voters have their say. But lawmakers then returned a few months later and watered them down by a simple majority vote.
The appeals court ruled Thursday that the Legislature in 2018 had the constitutional power to change the laws initiated by citizens through a petition process.
“The initiatives successfully forced the Legislature to act on the policies contained in the proposals,” Judge Christopher Murray said in the majority opinion. “Then, in amending the proposals, the Legislature continued to address those issues with all the legislators’ constituents’ interests in mind.”
The court stressed that it was not making its decision based on the pros or cons of raising the minimum wage, saying rather that it had to consider what the law states the Legislature is allowed to do, regardless of the underlying matter.
“Courts are concerned with what the law states, i.e., what the words actually contained in the law state, and a constitutional law does not become unconstitutional because it was passed with a bad intent,” the ruling reads in part.
Tamu Duncan, a server and bar manager, said servers aren’t getting paid enough.
“I think they should increase, in all honesty,” she told News 8. “The servers don’t get paid enough for stuff and a lot of the time the people don’t tip. So you got to think about that, but $3 is not enough. I think it should go up.”
The Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association agrees with the decision.
“It’s been two and a half challenging years for this industry, a pandemic where they were shut down for a long period of time, followed by a re-opening but a lot of inflation that made it really hard to operate in this industry,” Justin Winslow, the president and CEO of the association, said. “So it really would have been catastrophic to see this on top of everything the restaurant industry has dealt with the last two years. So the stability is well received and I think this is going to be good for both workers and operators in the industry.”
In a statement, the Michigan Restaurant & Lodging Association praised the court’s decision:
“We are relieved and appreciative of the unanimous ‘Adopt and Amend’ decision out of the Court of Appeals today that will allow Michigan and its 18,000 restaurants and hotels to move forward with greater certainty as to their operating future. Through this ruling, countless restaurants and 50,000 hospitality jobs have been at least temporarily saved. We are optimistic that the Michigan Supreme Court will recognize the same and allow this industry to redirect its focus to the daunting task of recovering from a pandemic that decimated it so completely.”MRLA President and CEO Justin Winslow
—News 8 digital executive producer Rachel Van Gilder and Amanda Porter contributed to this report.