Fast-food workers protest in front of a Church's chicken in Detroit in August. (David Coates / Detroit News)
Lansing — Organizers of a campaign to raise Michigan’s $7.40-an-hour minimum wage said they submitted proposed petition language to Secretary of State Ruth Johnson on Monday and are ready to start collecting signatures as soon as it is approved.
The effort is aimed at putting a ballot proposal before Michigan voters in November’s general election.
Organizers said they’re also open to a discussion with lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder about increasing the minimum wage through regular legislation, but it seems like a long shot. Two such bills, introduced last year, are languishing.
“Working people shouldn’t have to wait for a ballot initiative,” said Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan Director Frank Houston, whose group is part of a coalition pushing a 28-percent minimum wage increase to $9.50 an hour over two years.
The Restaurant Opportunities Center is a nonprofit group that advocates for workers’ rights and provides training for people in hospitality jobs, said Houston, who is also chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party.
Houston said organizers want to clear the proposed petition language through the Board of State Canvassers before starting their drive. A board meeting has yet to be scheduled.
Under the proposed initiative, the minimum wage would be phased in by January 2016. The minimum wage then would automatically increase annually by inflation as measured by the Consumer Price Index.
The campaign also seeks to have the $2.65-an-hour minimum wage for tipped workers such as waiters and waitresses boosted 85 cents an hour every year until it reaches the $9.50 mark.
The campaign was launched Saturday by Michigan United, a liberal coalition of more than 100 faith, labor, business, social service and civil rights organizations.
Michigan United Director Ryan Bates said the aim is to gather about 350,00 signatures and turn them in by May 28. The coalition needs 258,088 registered voter signatures to qualify their proposal for the November ballot, according to Houston.
Houston said the campaign has $1 million in donations secured to pay for signature-gathering, if necessary. ROC Michigan has pledged $300,000 toward the effort, Houston said.
Bates said organizers want volunteers to collect as many petition signatures as possible, but individual groups such as the Restaurant Opportunities Center also will use paid circulators.
Houston said the proposed new minimum wage rate is based on trying to get a family of three “out of poverty” — a goal backed by the labor movement.
The group had explored pursuing a new minimum wage rate in the range of $9 to 10.10 — the rate proposed by President Barack Obama. The national minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.
“We have to make sure we can pass it,” Houston said Friday during a taping of WKAR’s “Off The Record” television show.
Minimum wage hike petition drives are under way in at least four other states. There have been a scattering of demonstrations for higher wages by fast food and restaurant workers in Michigan and other states.
The ballot measure is a voter-initiated drive that would automatically become law if approved by a vote of the people or a majority vote of the Republican-controlled House and Senate, where it would likely face an uphill battle for approval. Gov. Rick Snyder has said he thinks there are better ways to increase pay and a mandated pay hike might have unintended consequences.
Business groups argue the minimum wage is a starting rate of pay and that the proposed 28 percent increase would make the cost of labor too expensive, especially for the food industry, resulting in job losses.