Detroiters Sherryl McCray, left, Robert A. Mitchell and Debbi Adams enthusiastically listen as Michigan United launches its 'Raise Michigan' campaign to increase the minimum wage Saturday at the Communication Workers of America Local 4100 headquarters in Detroit. (Lauren Abdel-Razzaq / The Detroit News)
A coalition of faith-based organizations, labor unions and civil rights groups launched a campaign Saturday to raise Michigan’s minimum wage by securing the issue a spot on the November ballot.
Michigan United has started recruiting volunteers to obtain the necessary 258,088 signatures to place the measure on the ballot of more than 322,609 signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment. The deadline for submitting the signatures is in May.
“Right now we’re like a snowball at the very top of a mountain. We’re going to grow,” Bartosz Kumor, leader of the “Raise Michigan” campaign, told about 25 volunteers who attended a training session Saturday at the Communication Workers of America Local 4100 headquarters in Detroit.
The ballot language has not been determined, but leaders plan to ask for between $9.50 and $10 per hour. On Saturday, they asked volunteers to recruit their friends and practiced phone bank and canvassing techniques.
Pastor Sam Johnson of Straight Streets Inspirational Baptist Church in Detroit spoke about his experience working with a food bank, where many residents come even though they work full time jobs.
“When you have to choose between heat and gas or food for you and your kids, when you can’t have the basic necessities, that’s not right,” he said. “I’m not going to be quiet about it. I’m not going to let people be quiet about it. We’re still in this fight.”
Another volunteer orientation was held Saturday in Kalamazoo.
The ballot campaign is sparked by what the coalition says is inaction in Congress and the state Legislature on proposals seeking a raise in the minimum wage. The last minimum wage increase in Michigan was 2008.
Gov. Rick Snyder hasn’t directly address the issue, but he has said he’s focusing on filling well-paying jobs that are already open. On Tuesday he touted technical training and associate degree programs during a re-election tour at Oakland Community College.
Asked if he would support a public referendum, Snyder replied: "I view that as part of democracy... In terms of supporting or not supporting, I'm keeping my focus on just what we covered today. How do we come up with (50,000) to 80,000 well-paying jobs that are open. Let's focus on filling those."
President Barack Obama announced during his State of the Union address on January 28 that he would sign an executive order to increase the minimum wage on new federal contract from $7.25 to $10.10 per hour.
Obama's order won't take effect until 2015 at the earliest and doesn't affect existing federal contracts, only new ones.
As for those volunteering for the “Raise Michigan” campaign, they say the fight needs to be given more attention
Detroiter Sherryl McCray says she is committed to the campaign because back in 1993, she was working a job where she made minimum wage and it wasn’t enough to live on.
“It was almost impossible for me to pay my rent and my food,” she said. “I don’t have that issue now but I empathize with people who are experiencing that.”
For more information, visit www.miunited.org.