Senators Brinks and Geiss introduce legislation to support workers

LANSING, Mich. — Sens. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids) and Erika Geiss (D-Taylor) today introduced a package of bills that would permit local communities to set their own standards for employee benefits, and for Michigan workers to earn paid leave to care for themselves and sick family members during a declared national, state and local emergency, such as a pandemic.

Senate Bill 960 (Brinks) would repeal Public Act 105 of 2015. Colloquially named the ‘Death Star’ bill, Public Act 105 of 2015 limits the powers of local governments by prohibiting municipalities and counties from regulating wages and benefits in their communities. This legislation was just one of several preemptive measures signed into law by then Gov. Rick Snyder to bind the hands of local units of government. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in our system which have ignored the unique needs of individual communities,” Sen. Brinks said. “By putting the power back in the hands of our localities, we are lifting unnecessary restrictions that have inhibited them from providing desperately needed health and safety protections for workers and communities.”

Senate Bill 961 (Geiss) would allow workers to earn one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours worked, limited to 40 hours per year, with excess earned leave time to be used as unpaid sick time. The earned sick leave can be used for personal mental or physical illness, or to care for a child or another family member — whether biologically related or someone whose relationship is equivalent to that of a familial relationship. 

“Michigan families deserve the right to earn paid sick leave for themselves and for their families — it’s not just a matter of personal health, it’s a matter of public health and safety,” Sen. Geiss said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made it even more clear that workers should be able to — and need to — take time off from work not only to recover from their illness, but to prevent the spread of it throughout their workplace and to their co-workers.”

The bill includes a special provision for national, state and local emergencies. Workers may use earned sick leave if:

“The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the critical need for a strong paid sick time law in Michigan,” said Jared Make, Vice President of A Better Balance. “When workers lack adequate paid sick time, they are much more likely to go to work sick, threatening their own health and spreading illness throughout the community. Michigan should join the growing number of states that are responding to the pandemic by guaranteeing that all workers have the right to paid sick time, especially during a public health emergency.” 

Michigan is one of only 12 states and Washington D.C. that offers employees some form of paid sick leave, according to the National Conference of State Legislators. Michigan passed an Earned Paid Sick Leave law in 2018 that was brought to the Legislature by way of ballot initiative. This initiative was passed and immediately amended to reduce the benefits that workers receive, and limit the requirements to large employers. The state only guarantees one hour of sick leave for every 35 hours worked, and only those who work for large employers are eligible. 

More than 80% of Black women are breadwinners in families with children under the age of 18, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. Economic hardships are compounded by a wage gap where Black working mothers in Michigan make $0.62 to every dollar that a working father makes. Organizations like Mothering Justice argue that this inequality has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Black mamas, an already marginalized group, are especially affected during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Aisha Wells of Mothering Justice. “Many food sector workers are mamas of color who are already not eligible for health care benefits through their employer, and who are also not able to receive paid sick days. Being labelled an ‘essential worker’ offered no other protection or support. The new Earned Paid Sick Leave bill will ensure that mamas can be covered by paid sick days without having to choose between paying their bills or caring for themselves or a sick child.”

“The people on the frontlines who are working to keep our communities livable and amenities available are struggling to make ends meet,” Sen. Geiss said. “Michiganders should not have to choose between earning a paycheck or recovering from illness, and I believe changing the law to reflect the times we live in is long overdue.”

Senate Bill 960 was referred to the Senate Committee on Government Operations and Senate Bill 961 was assigned to the Senate Committee on Economic & Small Business Development.

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