Ask The Lawyer By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.- Minimum wage stays put – for now

Minimum wage stays put – for now

QUESTION: I had heard that because of some court case the minimum wage was going up by $3 per hour this year. When I asked my supervisor about it, she said the minimum wage this year is $10.10 per hour, and I should be happy I’m getting more than that. I only make $11 per hour, and was looking forward to the raise. What happened?

ANSWER: It’s a complicated story that begins back in 2018, when a group called One Fair Wage got enough signatures to present a citizen-initiated proposal to raise the minimum to the state legislature. The proposal would have bumped the minimum wage 60 to 75 cents each year until it reached $12.00 in 2022 – after which it would be adjusted for inflation every year.

Under Michigan law, when the legislature receives a citizen-initiated proposal, it can adopt it as written, reject it (in which case it appears on the November ballot) or reject it and place the legislature’s own competing proposal on the ballot. The wage increase had gathered a lot of popular support – although businesses opposed the measure — and it looked like it would pass if left to the voters in November

And, here’s an important fact about Michigan’s law on citizen petitions: If a citizen-initiated proposal is voted into law at the ballot box, a three-quarters majority in the legislature is required to amend it; if the legislature enacts it as written, it can be amended by a simple majority vote. In 2018, Republicans held the majority in both the House and Senate – but did not have the kind of supermajority that would allow them to amend a law passed by voters.

In August 2018, the worker-friendly proposal was presented to the legislature – and a Republican majority enacted it into law, as written, a week later. As a result, the proposal did not appear on the November ballot. A few days after the election, an amendment to the newly-enacted law was introduced in the Senate. Instead of increasing the minimum wage to $12 by 2022, the amended law would raise it to $12.05 by 2030 – and do away with adjustments for inflation. That bill was signed into law on December 13, 2018.

But the “adopt and amend” policy that had been used to make the law a bit friendlier to employers was immediately challenged, a challenge that eventually made its way to court. In July 2022, the Court of Claims ruled the procedure followed to amend the law was a violation of Michigan’s constitution that would eviscerate the process of citizen-initiated petitions. The judge ruled that the amended laws were null and void – and the law would revert back to its form as enacted in September 2018, before the amendment. Implementation of the opinion was delayed until February 2023, to give employers time to adjust.

Under that ruling, the minimum wage this year would have been $13.03 — $12.00 adjusted for inflation.

But that ruling was immediately appealed. On January 26, 2023 (the appeal was immediate, but the process was not), the Court of Appeals held that the procedure followed by the Republican majority was not illegal (although, in a concurring opinion, it was called “undemocratic”). As a result, the amended version of the 2018 law remained in effect, with a minimum wage for 2023 of $10.10 per hour – so you are making more than the minimum wage. (It could be worse; the federal minimum wage is just $7.25 an hour.)

But the story is not over. In February, proponents of the original law filed an Application for Leave to Appeal in Michigan’s Supreme Court. If the Court accepts the case, the amended law could be off the books again, and the minimum wage might once again rise dramatically. But, a decision could take a year or more. Like any good story, this chapter has ended on a cliffhanger. Stay tuned.

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By: Daniel A. Gwinn, Esq.
Attorney and Counselor at Law
900 Wilshire Drive, Suite 104
Troy, MI 48084
(248) 970-0310
(248) 970-0311 facsimile
[email protected]