Group submits 373k signatures for $12 Michigan minimum wage ballot initiative

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Alicia Renee Farris of One Fair Michigan speaks outside the Michigan Secretary of State's office on May 21, 2018.

Lansing — Some low-income Michigan workers and restaurant servers would get a hourly raise under a $12 minimum wage ballot initiative backed by a national advocacy group but opposed by state business groups.

Organizers with the Michigan One Fair Wage committee on Monday submitted an estimated 373,507 signatures to the Bureau of Elections, topping the 252,523 valid voter signatures required to make the November ballot. Staff will review the petitions before recommending certification or denial by the Board of State Canvassers.

The proposal would raise Michigan’s $9.25 minimum wage to $10 in 2019, $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021, $12 in 2022 and then tie future increases to inflation. It would also phase out by 2024 a lower rate for restaurant servers and other tipped employees who can earn a guaranteed hourly rate of $3.52.

 “Our effort will allow Michigan to keep pace with other states that are striving to ensure every worker makes a fair wage,” said campaign chair Alicia Renee Farris. Restaurant servers won’t “be dependent upon the generosity of others but be paid by their employers.”

The ballot committee is backed by the Restaurant Opportunities Center, a national worker advocacy group that donated $200,000 in January. But powerful state business groups, including the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Restaurant Association, oppose the potential ballot proposal.

“Simply put, this proposal is irresponsible and dangerous, and it will fail in Michigan like it has failed everywhere else,” Justin Winslow, President & CEO of the Michigan Restaurant Association, said in a statement.

Winslow said restaurant workers overturned a similar proposal in Maine last year and said officials in New York and Washington, D.C., are opposing “a similarly cynical play by organized labor because they know it will mean fewer jobs, fewer opportunities and lower incomes for those impacted.”

In Michigan, a group of employees represented by the Restaurant Workers of America rallied against the $12 minimum wage proposal last week in Lansing, arguing it would reduce wages for some servers who rely primarily on tips.

But Tracy Brassuer-Pease, who helped collect signatures for the initiative and said she works at a coney island restaurant in Royal Oak, said the proposal would guarantee a base wage in an unpredictable industry.

“If business isn’t good or if we have construction or if the weather is bad, I’m only making $3.52 an hour and even then the people that come in are not obligated to tip me,” Brassuer-Pease said. “But what I am obligated to do is pay my landlords, to pay DTE and Consumers Energy. They don’t care if business is slow.”

Godwin Intentuge, owner of the Yum Village food truck and catering service in Detroit, said he starts his employees out at $10 an hour but offers them “incubator” services and supports the $12 proposal.

“I’m a business owner, and I am in support of one fair wage -- you did not hear that wrong,” he said before he and other supporters carried petitions into the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office.

“What’s going to happen when the people who are in all of our working class can no longer afford to take part in all the industries they’re providing for? It’s not going to be good for the bottom line for America’s communities and America’s commerce, I can tell you that.”

The Michigan One Fair Wage Committee had raised $1.1 million for the effort through the end of April and had spent more than $650,000, primarily on paid circulators through the AAP Holding Company of California.

The ROC Action Fund to Raise Michigan donated $400,000 to the effort last month. Its donors are not known because it failed to file a required disclosure report to the state, which sent out a notice on April 26.  

Michigan’s minimum wage rose to $9.25 in January under a 2015 law Gov. Rick Snyder and the Republican-led Legislature signed in 2014 to undercut $10.10-an-hour petition drive that did not end up making the ballot.

The $9.25 rate is already the highest wage in the region, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Ohio’s hourly rate is $8.30, Indiana and Wisconsin are at $7.25 and Illinois remains at $8.25 after Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner last year vetoed a $15 minimum wage bill.