Bill would prohibit local wage, benefit agreements

By Alisha Green
Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Local governments would be prohibited from mandating minimum wages or putting other requirements on employers under an expanded version of a bill being discussed again after dying last session.

The bill could make it out of committee within the week, but that will likely depend on whether its language can be changed to address concerns that the bill would prevent local governments from adopting or enforcing non-discrimination policies.

House Commerce and Trade Committee Chairman Rep. Joseph Graves, a Linden Republican, said he is looking into addressing the issue before the bill moves forward.

Preventing non-discrimination ordinances is not the intent of the bill, Graves said. He added that he wants to make sure it doesn't have unintended consequences when it goes to the House floor.

The issue also prompted a response from the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which supports the bill. Chamber President and CEO Rich Studley said the group does not support employment discrimination and is working with the bill sponsor and others to ensure the legislation would not override local non-discrimination ordinances.

Even if that issue is resolved, the bill is likely to face opposition from others.

In a letter to the House commerce committee, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan said the legislation "infringes on the time-honored principles of home rule and local control."

Groups opposing the bill include the Michigan Township Association and Michigan Municipal League, representing local governments, labor groups including the Michigan branches of UAW and AFL-CIO, and groups such as Michigan League for Public Policy and the ACLU of Michigan.

A version of the bill last session was narrower. It focused on wages and benefits, but it also would have prohibited community benefits agreements. That part was removed in the new legislation, but the new bill's language would prohibit local governments from passing ordinances that would regulate unpaid leave, scheduling, benefits, apprenticeships or training programs and more.

Bill sponsor Rep. Earl Poleski, a Jackson Republican, said the legislation is needed to avoid a patchwork of local ordinances that make it difficult for employers to invest in Michigan. Groups supporting the bill include the Michigan Restaurant Association, Michigan Retailers Association, Small Business Association of Michigan, and Michigan Manufacturers Association.

Wendy Block, director of health policy and human resources at the Michigan Chamber, said the state is in the best position to make decisions on fair wages and benefits. At least 29 other states have such laws, she said.

But opponents including Rashida Tlaib, a former member of the state House and the community partnerships and development director at the Sugar Law Center for Economic and Social Justice, said state leaders are not as connected with local issues.

"There are barriers that local units of government are connected with that you all are not," she said.

Other opponents have criticized Republicans who often emphasize local control.

"To me it is pretty incredible hypocrisy that the party of local control continues to try to strip local control to have more power centralized in Lansing," said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan.

Poleski said that in this case, eliminating discrepancies helps employers.

"Local control is important, but I think what we're trying to balance here is local control and consistency and predictability in the economic climate," he said. "That is also what we are all about."

Published: Tue, May 19, 2015