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Activists say pandemic highlights need to expand Michigan sick leave

sick time rally Lansing
Sarah Lehr
Activists call for expanded sick time guarantees and an increased minimum wage during a rally at Michigan's Capitol in Lansing on Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.

Tia Marie Sanders says she spent two months hospitalized with the novel coronavirus when the pandemic first hit the U.S.

But, the Novi resident says, fears of missing work weighed just as heavily as fears about her health.

"No time that I spent in that eight weeks did I not think about my car note, my mortgage, how my kids were going to get back and forth to what they needed to do," she said. “If I'm worrying about how I'm going to put food on the table, so I can't worry about what my next breath is going to be, I am not your best Michigan worker.”

Sanders joined a small group of protestors at the state Capitol Wednesday in calling for expanded sick leave and other worker protections.

Viviana Alamillo, an organizer with a group called For Michigan’s Future, says the coronavirus is exposing the pressure that parents like her face.

"Not just moms, but like dads and just people in general are struggling to get by and feeling that they cannot take a single day off from their job because they are afraid they'll get fired," Alamillo said.

Mothering Justice, a backer of Wednesday's rally, and other progressive groups sued Michigan’s attorney general earlier this year after Republican lawmakers stopped voters from weighing in on whether to expand Michigan's sick time mandates and raise the state's minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022.

State legislators blocked the initiatives from the ballot in 2018 by adopting the proposals and then amending them in scaled back form.

The amended version set Michigan's minimum hourly wage at just over $12 by 2030; currently, it is $9.65.

Certain private-sector Michigan workers at businesses with more than 50 employees earn one hour of sick time for every 35 hours worked at up to 40 hours per year.

The ballot proposal would have required up to 40 hours of sick time for workers at businesses with less than 10 employees and up to 72 hours at places with more than 10 employees.

Corrected: November 11, 2021 at 10:12 AM EST
Tia Marie Sanders' name was incorrectly referenced as Tina Marie Sanders. This has been corrected.

Sarah Lehr is a politics and civics reporter for WKAR News.
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