Rideout: Protests led to wage hike
Just before last Labor Day, Michigan’s minimum wage rose from $7.40 per hour to $8.15, and it will increase to $9.25 in 2018. It was the first raise in six years.
The new law made Michigan the first state with a Republican-led legislature to raise its minimum wage this year.
When you consider this was the very same ultra-conservative legislature and governor who, only a year, earlier attacked unions by making Michigan a right-to-work state, it raises the question of what could have motivated them to raise wages.
The answer is very simple: It was the thousands of minimum wage workers in this state who have been protesting and demanding a living wage, along with those in 150 cities in every corner of the country.
Of course, the Legislature’s action was also spurred in large measure by a cynical move to preempt a November ballot initiative that would have placed a living wage before voters for their approval. Polls suggested such an initiative had strong public support and would have raised the minimum wage even higher than Republicans did.
However, even as the big businesses that have been targets of the protests attempted to marginalize the protestors as naive or pawns of organized labor, the campaign completely changed the politics of the country over the past two years.
The fight for a $15 living wage started less than two years ago with 200 workers in New York City taking a risk by walking off their job. Today, it’s tens of thousands of workers. The push for $15 an hour that was laughed at when they first started it is a reality in Seattle and San Francisco. This also generated momentum for step wage increases in places like New York, Chicago and Oakland.
This spring will mark the two-year anniversary for the fast food workers’ D15 campaign in Michigan. And while our state has not yet seen fit to adopt a $15 an hour living wage, we are indebted to those workers who bravely withstood threats to their jobs and the mockery of politicians and some in the media for taking such a courageous stand.
Their actions not only forced some businesses to offer more hours to part-time workers, but, as evidenced by the increase in the minimum wage, some workers were able to see immediate pay increases. More importantly, they helped frame a larger dialogue about what constitutes a livable wage in Michigan.
The new minimum wage still isn’t livable, but it at least has people engaged in a discussion where there was none before. And it shows the power of a people organized and determined to affect change and the need for all of us to remain vigilant.
Pastor W.J. Rideout III leads All God’s People’s Church in Detroit and is involved with the D15 campaign in Michigan’s push for fast food workers to earn $15 an hour.