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COVID-19 makes Michigan Republicans’ 2018 trickery to block strong paid sick leave look even worse

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Michigan workers without paid sick leave have an extra reason to be angry about being forced to go to work during the coronavirus pandemic: Republicans in their state went to extreme lengths to keep 1.5 million Michigan workers from getting paid sick leave in 2018.

In 2018, Republicans blocked a ballot measure that would have let workers at businesses employing six or more people earn up to 72 hours per year of sick leave. They blocked it by passing it as law—and then, after the election, slashing the law to ribbons, reducing the hours of sick leave from 72 to 40 and exempting businesses with fewer than 50 employees.

Now paid sick leave has gone from being an unmet need to a national crisis, and Michigan Democrats are trying to revive the push for a strong paid sick leave law in the state, with a bill boosting the law back up to what Michigan Republicans originally passed in order to be able to reverse. The problem is that, while Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer would sign the bill, Republicans still control the state’s heavily gerrymandered legislature. In fact, both the Senate majority leader and the House speaker voted to gut the sick leave law in 2018.

“Yes, I am politicizing this,” wrote Danielle Atkinson of Mothering Justice in a recent op-ed. “I am weaponizing the virus, because the leadership of one political party weaponized the legislative process against working men and women. Because it deserves to be weaponized and used against the politicians, many of whom are still in office, who put Michigan at a greater risk than necessary.”

Republicans across the country have been working for years to ensure that workers can’t stay home when they’re sick, a burden that falls overwhelmingly on low-wage workers who are often already vulnerable in other ways. Just 30% of workers in the bottom 10% have paid sick leave, while 93% in the top 10% do. That fact is now at the center of an emergency—and Republicans are still looking for ways to keep workers on the job while sick or punish them for taking time off.

This article was originally published at Daily Kos on March 16, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is a Daily Kos contributor at Daily Kos editor since December 2006. Full-time staff since 2011, currently assistant managing editor.

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