Petition effort aims to push Michigan's minimum wage to $15 an hour

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Michigan's minimum wage would increase to $15 an hour by 2027 under a petition initiative submitted Tuesday to Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson's office. 

The Raise the Wage Michigan Ballot Committee's proposal would increase the state's current $9.65 an hour minimum wage in $1 increments over five years, starting at $11 in January 2023 and increasing to $15 by 2027. 

The initiative also would require automatic adjustments for inflation every year after 2027.

It would end the "sub-minimum wage" for tipped workers, for people younger than 20 or for people with disabilities. The sub-minimum wage would be phased out in steps until it reached parity with the standard minimum wage Jan. 1, 2028. 

"Every time we put this on the ballot in Michigan, every time we collect signatures, this is the most popular issue that exists in the state," said Saru Jayaraman, One Fair Wage president and co-founder. "Everybody overwhelmingly agrees people deserve to be paid a fair living wage when they work."

Retired auto industry worker Mike Shane, left, of Detroit, holds a $15 sign as McDonald's workers and supporters protest at the restaurant's location on Van Dyke Ave. and E. Outer Dr. in Detroit and advocates for the $15 an hour minimum wage (Fight for $15) engage in a work stoppage on Wednesday at noon, May 19, 2021, a day before McDonald's holds in annual shareholder meeting.

The group said the pandemic and ongoing battles with customers bucking COVID-19 mandates have driven many people away from minimum wage jobs. But a wage increase at the close of the pandemic could lure them back to those positions. 

"The combination of having to enforce social distancing and mask rules on the very same customers from whom they had to get tips was the breaking point for thousands of restaurant workers," Jayaraman said.

The group says it has about half a million dollars in contributions set aside to launch the initiative and is confident it can gather the 340,047 signatures needed to obtain certification. 

"We’ve got access to this incredible base of underemployed workers who won’t go back to the industry until they get a livable wage," Jayaraman said.

In 2018, organizers gathered enough signatures to put a similar minimum wage increase on the ballot. But the Republican-led Legislature instead adopted the proposal before it made it to the ballot and amended it for a slower implementation. 

The Legislature’s changes resulted in minimum wage increasing from $9.25 to $12.05 per hour by 2030, slowing the initial proposed increase to $12 by 2022. The minimum wage for tipped restaurant workers will rise to $4.58 by 2030 instead of $12 by 2024.

Under the law, the state's minimum wage is set to increase 22 cents on Jan. 1 to $9.87 an hour. 

The Legislature's so-called "adopt and amend" strategy is currently wrapped up in litigation, but attorney Mark Brewer said that regardless of the outcome of adopt and amend, it is unlikely to affect current efforts. 

"They would have to get the governor’s signature on the bill to amend it and gut it," Brewer said. "We do not believe the governor would be party to such a scheme to gut the minimum wage.”

The minimum wage petition joins an increasingly crowded initiative field, now one of seven petition initiatives seeking a place on the 2022 ballot or adoption by the Legislature. Other initiative petitions deal with prohibitions on public health orders, tightened voter identification rules, caps on short-term loan interest, tax-incentivized education scholarship programs, sentencing law changes and a forensic audit of the 2020 election.