Michigan group plans $12 minimum wage petition

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Michigan’s minimum wage would rise to $12 per hour by 2022 and tipped workers would earn the same guarantee by 2024 under a potential ballot proposal announced Thursday.

One Fair Wage, a coalition that includes the labor-related Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, is expected to seek petition approval from the Board of State Canvassers before beginning a “grassroots effort” to collect signatures.

Organizers say the proposal would gaurantee “fair pay for hard work,” but business and restaurant groups immediately attacked the campaign as a “reckless effort” that could kill jobs.

The state minimum wage is already set to rise from $8.90 an hour to $9.25 next year. The petition seeks to raise the rate to $10 in 2019, $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021 and $12 in 2022.

The group is also seeking “wage parity” for tipped workers, whose current minimum hourly wage of $3.38 will rise to $3.52 next year. Under the proposed ballot measure, tipped workers would also earn $12 by 2024.

Alicia Farris, state director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center, said tipped employees like restaurant servers are predominately female and more likely to live in poverty.

“They call the tipped wage a subminimum wage, and that indicates what they think about these people,” Farris said. “Who is it that you know who can live and raise a family on $3.38 an hour? This is a residual of slavery.”

One Fair Wage would need to collect at least 252,523 valid signatures to make the 2018 ballot and face opposition from business groups, who say a $12 minimum wage could force employers to reduce benefits or layoff workers.

“At the end of the day, labor costs have to be made up somewhere,” said Wendy Block of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce. “Whether it’s raising the prices on goods and services or making cuts elsewhere, the costs are real.”

Michigan’s $8.90-an-hour minimum wage is already the highest in the region, according to the state chamber. Ohio’s hourly rate is $8.15, Indiana and Wisconsin are $7.25 and Illinois remains at $8.25 after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner last month vetoed a $15 minimum wage bill.

Michigan’s rate is set to rise in January for the fourth straight year under a law Gov. Rick Snyder and the GOP-led Legislature approved in 2014 to fend off a $10.10-an-hour petition drive.

The 2014 petition, also backed by labor groups, would have raised the tipped rate by 85 cents per year until it matched the regular minimum wage.

But it would be “reckless to force Michigan into the distinct minority of states that have eliminated the tipped minimum wage,” Justin Winslow of the Michigan Restaurant Association said in a statement.

The proposal would “irrefutably harm Michigan’s second largest private employer and only serve to diminish opportunities for those that need them most,” he argued.

As The Detroit News reported Monday, multiple Democratic candidates for governor are calling for a $15-an-hour minimum wage. Former state Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, former Detroit health department director Abdul El-Sayed, Ann Arbor entrepreneur Shri Thanedar and former Xerox executive Bill Cobbs each support the push.

It’s not immediately clear when the $12 minimum wage petition could go before the Board of State Canvassers, an optional step many ballot committee take to avoid potential legal challenges after collecting signatures.

One Fair Wage plans to begin collecting signatures immediately after board approval and intends to rely primarily on volunteer petition circulators. But with winter fast approaching, Farris said organizers also “hope to have some paid assistance.”

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