Lansing — A coalition of workers’ groups plan to form a ballot campaign committee Monday to consider pursuing a statewide vote in November on raising Michigan’s minimum wage.
The Raise Michigan ballot committee will be formed with the state Bureau of Elections and is still finalizing its proposed increase of the $7.40-an-hour minimum wage, said Frank Houston, director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, which is part of the coalition.
The group will likely seek a new minimum wage ranging from $9 to $10.10 an hour, Houston said.
To qualify for the Nov. 5 ballot, the group would need to gather a minimum of 258,088 valid voter signatures for an initiated law or more than 322,609 signatures for a proposed constitutional amendment. Houston said the group hasn’t decide which electoral path to pursue.
The ballot campaign is being sparked by inaction in Congress and the state Legislature on proposals seeking a raise in the minimum wage, which last increased in Michigan in 2008.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer of Battle Creek has proposed a minimum wage hike to $9.25 an hour, making it a major part of his campaign against incumbent Republican Gov. Rick Snyder.
Snyder and Republican lawmakers who control the Legislature have shown little appetite for a minimum wage increase this year, raising concerns about businesses having to curtail workers’ hours or hire fewer employees to make up for the additional payroll costs.
“We’re losing confidence that our elected officials are going to get this done in Lansing or Washington, D.C.,” Houston said.
Rich Studley, president and CEO of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said his business organization opposes increasing the minimum wage and contends the issue is being pushed this year to aid Schauer and Democrats in turning out voters this fall.
“A lot of this debate is pretty obviously being driven by political considerations in an election year. ... Minimum wage, maximum politics,” Studley said Monday. “A higher minimum wage will mean fewer jobs and higher prices.”
President Barack Obama is expected to make a push for hiking the $7.25 federal minimum wage today in his State of the Union address before Congress.
“I think it always helps when the president is talking about an issue,” Houston said. “But let’s be honest, when it comes to raising the minimum wage, the public was in favor of it well before the president started talking about it.”
Houston said the ballot committee’s final proposal will include a proposed increase for tipped employees, whose minimum wage is $2.65 an hour. Houston’s group, ROC of Michigan, advocates for better wages and working conditions for restaurant workers.
The coalition of workers’ rights groups includes Michigan United, Mothering Justice, the Center for Progressive Leadership, Building Movement Project/People’s Platform and the Detroit-based group MOSES, which stands for Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength.
No labor unions have formally joined the ballot initiative, though Houston said he expects organized labor to support the effort.
Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift released a statement Monday saying a minimum wage hike “would increase purchasing power, create more jobs and help lift Michigan’s economy.”
“Any serious minimum wage proposal must also improve the lives of the predominately female workforce earning less than $3 per hour and relying upon on tips to make ends meet,” Swift said. “Wherever minimum wage is addressed — at the federal level, by statewide and statehouse officeholders or candidates, or by a ballot initiative — this is a critical issue for working families heading into the 2014 elections. “
Houston also is the chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party, though he said the ballot initiative is being driven by the independent groups and not his political party.