Won Not Done

Michigan just became the 11th state to win earned paid sick time – a victory that opponents are threatening to snatch out of our hands by ignoring the law and the will of the people. The win is the outcome of years of struggle by Mothering Justice and other grassroots groups in this state, who fight at the intersection of women’s rights, worker’s rights and civil rights. The threat comes from special interest groups and lobbyists who want to keep people from exercising their democratic rights.
For the past 6 years, with the help of many progressive lawmakers, we have organized to win earned sick time: the right of working people to take time off when they are ill to recover with out the fear of losing pay or their job. The campaign started with conversations led by moms – mostly of moms of color – and turned into actions, which turned into state legislation and ballot initiatives.
Yesterday’s fight was not the first time earned sick time came under fire.  As many of us joke – you know you’re doing something right if they are coming for you. When we first introduced a bill in Detroit, corporate interest succeeded in pushing through legislation that made it impossible to enact worker protections on a local level. They did it by maneuvering behind closed doors.
That only strengthened our resolve to go bigger and win earned sick time for the entire state, not just one or two communities. We went back to the drawing board, planning and organizing and strengthening our muscle for the battle that lay before us.
In 2014, we embarked on our first ballot initiative. This direct democracy approach allowed us to bring the issue in front of the people who needed it most and bypass the obstructionist lawmakers who are deep in the pockets of lobbyists for big corporations. But we realized we need more time or resources to get the signatures we need.
For the next 4 years we continued educating communities, gaining allies, learning about what works and what doesn’t, and above all hearing from our members. Along the way we met many people who became activists. People like Christina, a mother who battles Lupus and has lost jobs for taking time she needed to heal. We met Kelly, whose child has sickle cell anemia  and who worries about the children whose parents don’t have earned sick time  and send their child to school sick – for her kid, a cold can become a life threatening crisis. We met Lisa, the owner of a local bakery who thinks earned sick time should not be a benefit only for people lucky enough to have a caring boss but a right that every person who works should have.
By 2017 we were a different, larger organization, coalition and FORCE. We had laid the groundwork for a successful signature drive, and in May of 2018 we turned in hundred of thousand of signatures from people all over Michigan who were sick of being squashed and wanted to start making the rules around fair treatment. There were moments in the signature gathering drive where I could almost  hear A. Philip Randolph say, ” If someone tried to deprive you of your rights, you’ve got to resist it. You’ve got to resent it. You’ve got to fight against it.”
And then yesterday happened. As you might know by now, the legislature has the option of adopting a ballot initiative initiated by the voters. This serves as an opportunity to recognize the will of the voters. But  the enemies of workers’ rights came up with a diabolical scheme to further disenfranchise voters and lay the groundwork to strip earned sick time later all in one afternoon.
Many people have reached out and asked whether this a huge step back for the movement. I told them, WE JUST WON. Six years of work, resulted in the legislature  being forced to recognized earned sick time is an extremely popular issue and it is now it is LAW OF THE LAND. What our enemies have planned for evil, we will use as good.
The fight for earned paid sick time enters a new phase today. We will work in every district to ensure the law is properly protected and implemented and families across the state are able to earn paid sick time. We know, just as our representatives in the statehouse know, that this policy is overwhelmingly popular with voters across the state. We will harness that support and engage voters throughout lame duck and implementation of the law.

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