Michigan is known the world over as the birthplace of the United Auto Workers and has long been synonymous with organized labor.
But after decades of GOP-led attacks on labor rights — most notably the 2012 Right to Work law — Michigan now belongs to the bottom half of states for workers, according to a new study examining state labor laws from Oxford America released just before Labor Day.
“These state laws can make a huge difference in compensation and conditions on the job, and can play a large role in quality of life for working families,” Oxfam writes in its report. “Low-wage workers are keenly aware of these differences: $480 a week (at $12 an hour) goes much farther than $290 a week (at $7.25 an hour); paid sick leave is a huge boon to working parents.”
The Mitten State is 28th on the group’s overall ranking for the best states to work. The report from the Boston-based group weighed three factors, including the right to organize, where Michigan is now 31st. Oxfam took into consideration if workers have the right to organize and sustain a union, including if Right to Work laws are on the books.
Another factor used is if public employees like teachers, police and firefighters have rights to collective bargaining and wage negotiation and if project labor agreements for government contracts (PLAs) are available. GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder signed a number of anti-union laws during his eight-year tenure, including one banning PLAs.
There’s also worker protection policies, with Michigan coming in 33rd. This section considers the quality of life for workers, especially women and parents, including protections for women who are pregnant and breastfeeding and mandates for equal pay, pay secrecy and no salary history.
Other policies examined are family leave and paid sick leave laws; protections around flexible scheduling, reporting pay, split shift pay and advance notice; and protections around sexual harassment.
In 2018, the GOP-controlled Legislature gutted a citizen ballot initiative for mandatory paid sick time for Michigan workers. Workers would have had 72 hours of paid time per year if they worked for employers with six or more workers.
However, the GOP-controlled Legislature used a legislative maneuver to gut the measure. First, the body adopted the petition, as is its legal right. Then after the 2018 election, Republicans passed new legislation decreasing the benefit to 40 hours and exempting businesses employing 50 or fewer people. This “adopt and amend” strategy is now being litigated.
And the study looked at state wage policies, where Michigan is 13th. Oxfam considered if workers earn a living wage for them and their families, using the MIT Living Wage Calculator. The study examined whether or not the state allows municipalities to implement their own minimum wage laws.
Michigan’s minimum wage is $9.45 per hour. Another 2018 citizen ballot petition would have hiked it to $12 per hour by 2022. Tipped workers, who have a $3.59 minimum wage per hour, also would have seen an increase to $12.
However, like the sick leave measure, the GOP-led Legislature adopted it and then watered it down to $12.05 by 2030, with tipped workers seeing $4.58 by 2030. This is also part of the court case being argued.
Overall, the District of Columbia comes in first in Oxfam’s rankings, followed by California, Washington, Massachusetts and Maine. The worst state for workers is Virginia, followed by Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and North Carolina.
“While the U.S. economy is thriving for some, it is leaving millions of working families behind,” Oxfam writes. “As the federal government has refused to advance labor laws that would help, most states have stepped up to make vital improvements in wages and conditions.”
Looking at other Midwest states, Michigan workers fare worse than most of their neighbors. Pennsylvania comes in at 24th, Minnesota is 10th, Illinois is 15th and Ohio is 20th.
Only Wisconsin (39) and Indiana (29) are worse than Michigan in the rankings.