Editorial: Fight for real opportunity in Detroit
The fight for a $15 minimum wage isn’t slowing down. A Detroit janitors union recently negotiated a contract (after threatening to strike) that will meet that target in three years, and while that may sound like a win for those workers, real opportunity awaits beyond forced wage hikes.
But don’t expect to hear that message from the Detroit City Council or other Democrats running for office in Michigan. If you’ve listened to messages coming from gubernatorial and congressional candidates on the left, the $15 wage is at the top of their to-do list.
The Detroit council voted unanimously last month to back a resolution supporting a $15 per hour minimum wage for those employed by private downtown companies. They did this to help the Service Employees International Union Local 1, which had begun contract negotiations for the 1,700 area janitors.
That’s somewhat ironic, as Michigan Capitol Confidential’s Evan Carter reported, since numerous city employees, including janitors, lifeguards and secretaries, are paid less than $15 an hour.
But the bigger picture here is that council members would be better off using their time and resources to advocate for jobs that can offer residents a more prosperous career -- and room for substantial salary growth.
Forcing employers to pay a lot more for janitorial work will result in fewer of those jobs and fewer hours worked, and it will shut out less experienced workers from getting an initial job. Studies have consistently shown this is the outcome when the government forces a higher wage for entry-level work.
There are plenty of skilled jobs going unfilled in the city -- ones that could pay twice as much as $15 per hour or more.
City leaders know this. Mayor Mike Duggan and council had required contractors to hire Detroit residents to complete more than 51 percent of the hours on publicly funded projects -- or face hefty fines. But there simply aren’t enough workers in the city trained to step into these roles, and contractors have had to pay the price. In building Little Caesars Arena, contractors have had to pay fines totaling more than $5 million.
The upside is that those fines are going toward training programs, overseen by Detroit’s workforce development office. There’s been a lot of collaboration between the city and business leaders to set up training for in-demand jobs. That work is going on at several Detroit schools, including the Randolph Career and Technical Center, and now Breithaupt, both in the Detroit Public Schools Community District. The idea is to get students thinking early about available careers. At Randolph, adults are also able to take evening classes and earn certificates that will allow them to get to work in a variety of construction trades.
City Council should also partner with Gov. Rick Snyder and the work he’s started through the Marshall Plan to spearhead more skilled trades training and collaboration among schools and businesses.
Calling for a $15 minimum wage may score temporary political points, but Detroit’s elected leaders would better serve residents by directing them to these training programs.