Levin calls for putting $15 minimum wage on Michigan's ballot

Sarah Rahal
The Detroit News

Royal Oak — U.S. Rep. Andy Levin joined petitioners Saturday calling for a ballot initiative that would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Michigan.

Under the proposal, by the Raise the Wage Michigan Ballot Committee, Michigan would increase the  $9.87 an hour minimum wage in $1 increments over five years, starting at $11 in January 2023 and increasing to $15 by 2027. 

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

It would also end the "sub-minimum wage" for tipped workers, for people younger than 20 years old 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, Levin said.

Christina Debose, left, signs a petition to raise the minimum wage from Dounia Klaffa, of One Fair Wage, outside The Royal Oak Farmers Market on Saturday, March 26, 2022.

Levin joined petitioners from One Fair Wage outside the Royal Oak Farmers Market Saturday, saying the fight for $15 an hour has long been advocated by the Service Employees International Union.

"Two-thirds of people who make minimum wages are women and they're disproportionate of color. If we could raise it to $15 an hour, including tipped workers, I think it would be important in this moment of COVID and with this inflation, people need to make more money," Levin told The Detroit News. 

Please support our work. Find the latest subscription deals and offers here.

Levin said it's unfair to workers to say raising the minimum wage will lead to higher inflation.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin joined petitioners from One Fair Wage Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Royal Oak's Farmers Market calling for a ballot initiative that would raise of the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Michigan.

"If you follow the logic of that, then the working people are going to get the short end of the stick," he said, adding it's not clear that the current fast-food workers making $14-$16 an hour is sustainable. "We need to put a better floor underneath them which is why it's important to get done now. I don't think wages will go back down soon."

In 2020, 73.3 million workers age 16 and older in the United States were paid at hourly rates, representing 55.5% of all wage and salary workers, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among those paid by the hour, 247,000 workers earned exactly the prevailing federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, according to the BLS.

Three-fifths of all workers paid at or below the federal minimum wage were employed in the hospitality industry, almost entirely in restaurants, bars, and other food services. Bus drivers, caregivers and school assistants are also some of the most common minimum wage workers.

The group said it is confident it can gather the 340,047 valid signatures needed to get on the November ballot. 

"As a server for the last four years, I believe this could be an across-the-nation increase and something worth fighting for," said Marisol Franco, a student a University of California-Berkeley that was petitioning at the farmers market with One Fair Wage. "We're here to raise awareness because a lot of people don't know that a good portion of the population still makes a small minimum wage."

In 2018, organizers gathered enough signatures to put a similar minimum wage increase on the ballot. However, Levin said 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 the 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.

The petition proposal is viewed skeptically by the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, which said state law and private-sector employees are already addressing the wage issue.

"Michigan’s minimum wage increased just three months ago, and will continue to do so in responsible increments over the next several years as a result of bipartisan legislation," Michigan Chamber spokeswoman Sara Wurfel said in a statement.

"The talent shortage has employers already paying increased wages above and beyond — all while facing rising inflation and supply chain chaos — just to keep the doors open. We instead need to focus on ways to help job providers fully rebound from COVID impacts and workers overcome barriers to employment like ensuring affordable child care, housing and transportation. Our members will carefully review any proposal that qualifies for the ballot.”

The minimum wage petition would join that could be a crowded initiative field.

Other initiative petitions include prohibitions on public health orders, tightened voter identification rules, reformed term limits, caps on short-term loan interest, tax-incentivized education scholarship programs, sentencing law changes and a forensic audit of the 2020 election. 

srahal@detroitnews.com