U.S. Labor chief to talk with workers, mayor in Detroit

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez will hold a roundtable in Detroit on Tuesday, meeting with the city’s mayor and fast food workers.

Perez is continuing his national “Shared Prosperity for a Stronger America” tour in Detroit as he addresses advocates of a $15 minimum wage. Los Angeles voted in May to hike its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 — joining San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and other large cities.

The roundtable at the Central United Methodist Church will include Mayor Mike Duggan, President of SEIU Healthcare Michigan Marge Robinson and Detroit 15 President Mark Riley.

“Fight for 15 is a national movement of fast food workers and their supporters aimed at raising the wage of fast food workers. Secretary Perez and the Obama administration affirm that when more workers have a voice, our nation is stronger, and more people succeed,” the Labor Department said.

Gov. Rick Snyder on June 30 signed legislation that will bar Michigan cities from raising minimum wages. They are also barred from requiring businesses to offer paid vacation or sick leave — as other cities have done. The legislation takes effect at the end of September. It will not overturn higher minimum wages approved by some Michigan cities before Jan. 1.

Detroit has been home to several protests of fast food workers since 2012 seeking higher minimum wages for fast food workers.

In 2014, more than a dozen states — including Michigan — and many cities hiked minimum wages. An SEIU study released earlier this year said low-paid working families rely on $153 billion in public assistance. Michigan is raising the minimum wage to $9.25 by 2018.

The minimum wage rose to $8.15 on Sept. 1. Teenagers age 16 or 17 — include those at fast food restaurants — may be paid $7.25 an hour and teens may be paid just $4.25 an hour for the first 90 days of work.

President Barack Obama has repeatedly pushed over the last two years to hike the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

In April 2014, Obama visited Zingerman's Deli in Ann Arbor to spotlight his call for a higher minimum wage. The White House said 972,100 workers in Michigan would benefit from a higher minimum awge — among 28 million workers nationwide — and adds the higher minimum wage would lift 2 million families out of poverty.

Republicans argue businesses will cut jobs if their labor costs go up. Fast food restaurants have said, especially in cities that are hiking wages to $15 an hour, that they are considering additional automation to reduce labor costs.

The White House said that since 1950, per capita gross domestic product has increased 246 percent, and labor productivity has grown 278 percent, but the minimum wage's value has fallen in inflation-adjusted terms.

In December, workers in Detroit and Highland Park protested.

"We had hundreds of folks who came out and supported us at 6 o'clock this morning," said the Rev. Charles Williams II, Michigan regional president for the National Action Network and pastor of Historic King Solomon Church in Detroit, in December. “We watched a few workers walk off the job as they decided to stand up for what was right and that's a fair wage.”

The group marched around the McDonald's on Woodward in Highland Park for approximately 90 minutes, chanting slogans like "Hold the pickles, hold the fries! We want our wages supersized," according to organizers.

"They are going to spend (a pay raise) locally on Main Street," he said.