No Minimum Wage Madness in Michigan

The fruits of Los Angeles residents’ labor in 2020 will be at least $15 an hour. Mayor Eric Garcetti signed an ordinance in June that makes L.A. the biggest city in America to set that mark for an hourly minimum wage.

Even the Democrats in California’s legislature aren’t that generous. Sen. Mark Leno (D) has introduced a proposal to raise the state’s hourly minimum wage to $11 in 2016 and $13 in 2017. Two years later, beginning in 2019, California’s minimum wage would be tied to the rate of inflation.

But Leno’s proposal won’t stop L.A. or any other city in the state from raising the minimum wage as high as they would like, setting any hiring requirement they deem necessary, or even GOP forbid, a living wage.

Michigan Republicans have decided they are not going to let that kind of minimum wage madness go unchecked in the Wolverine State.

Labor union leaders and Democrats say the Michigan GOP couldn’t have done it without the help of a lobbying organization — funded in large part by the Koch brothers —that has created model legislation to stop any California-style minimum wage stampede in its tracks.

Michigan Democrats dubbed HB 4052 the “Death Star” bill when it was introduced because not only would it prevent a city council or township board from setting a local minimum wage, it would have allowed them to wipe out any protection against LGBT discrimination.

“It would obliterate local control in Michigan, just as the Death Star obliterated Alderaan in 'Star Wars: Episode IV,'" East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett told the Washington Post.

Once the GOP dropped its discrimination language, Gov. Rick Snyder (R) was only too happy to sign the Death Star bill into law.

"The bill continues ongoing work to bolster the state's job creation climate by ensuring that regulations regarding employment matters are uniform across the state. That's more effective than a patchwork of varying local ordinances employers must navigate," said Snyder spokesman Dave Murray.

Now and forever more, or until Democrats take control of the Michigan Legislature and governor’s office, and who knows when that could be, local governments in the state cannot do what the L.A. City Council did in California.

Nobody in Michigan will be allowed to earn a minimum wage higher that the state standard, which right now is $8.15 an hour, just a bit above the national minimum wage of $7.25.

“The crux of this bill is abundantly clear: it's designed to attack workers and limit local democracy," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of liberal advocacy group Progress Michigan.

“Gov. Snyder has led a coordinated attack on democracy and workers ever since he set foot into office and this is the next iteration of that effort. The freedom to fight for a better future for our communities is being clobbered by Gov. Snyder and his conservative cronies in the legislature,” Scott added. “There’s a reason we called this bill the ‘Death Star’ — it’s a symbol of the tyrannical power that Gov. Snyder has wielded during his tenure as governor.”

Of course, the Michigan Chamber of Commerce doesn’t see it that way. Instead of worrying about Gov. Snyder’s “tyrannical power,” the state’s largest business advocacy organization was concerned by the prospect of hundreds of local governments going mad over the minimum wage.

“Michigan's 1,800-plus local units of government should not hold unlimited power to enact inflexible, burdensome and job-killing employment regulations,” said Michigan Chamber of Commerce CEO and President Dick Studley.

“These mandates significantly deter economic development and ultimately negatively impact our state's overall economic competitiveness,” Studley added.

Michigan is not the first, nor will it be the last to at least consider this type of minimum-wage ordinance.

Oklahoma’s legislature beat Michigan to the Death Star punch. Gov. Mary Fallin (R-Okla.) said in April 2014 there would be no increase in the state’s minimum wage. The Oklahoma Legislature followed suit by approving legislation to block a drive in Oklahoma City to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

And the state of New York has had similar legislation on its books for several years.

But labor advocates and Democrats see this as not a multi-state fortuitous coincidence. They believe it is, at its heart, a conspiracy launched by the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The Guardian reported ALEC has orchestrated a legislative drive to prohibit local control of the minimum wage in at least a dozen states, including Michigan and Oklahoma.

Help is only a click away for any of the other 38 states concerned with local officials messing around with their minimum wage. ALEC’s website contains a “Living Wage Mandate Preemption Act” legislative template, which is designed to repeal “any local ‘living wage’ mandates, ordinances or laws enacted by political subdivisions of the state.”

The model legislation would also “prohibit political subdivisions from enacting laws establishing ‘living wage’ mandates on private businesses, including those businesses that have service contracts with and/or receive financial assistance from such political subdivisions of state government.”

ALEC sees the rising minimum wage as the most critical battle faced by the nation’s businesses and as a result the U.S. economy.

Well, Michigan has not seen the end of its minimum wage battles. Its state Senate has approved SB 250, which would lower the minimum wage paid to people under the age of 20 by $2 an hour.

Any business in the state can give that kind of a haircut to the paychecks of workers under 18. The idea is to make it more affordable to hire teenagers.

But paying someone old enough to fight and die in the military the same as a teenager splitting time between a part-time job, his high school glee club, and getting to second base with his girlfriend angers Dessa Cosma, executive director of the Economic Justice Alliance of Michigan.

“Bills like these make it clear that Republican leadership in Lansing would rather work on behalf of well-connected lobbyists than work to improve the lives of those they represent,” Cosma said.

“Instead of listening to the lobbyists that swarm around their offices, those who voted for this pay cut should listen to the young people of Michigan who are working hard for their families and their futures.”