Dems try to boost minimum wage after last year’s heartbreak

By: - March 8, 2019 6:43 pm

SEIU members Paulette Compass, Carla Anderson, Jennifer Jackson and Markita Blanchard | Ken Coleman

Carla Anderson believes that Michigan would have stronger communities if workers who make minimum wage — or close to it — have more take-home pay for their families.

“Working people like me worked hard to get out the vote for the One Fair Wage Initiative,” said Anderson, a janitor who works at Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit and belongs to SEIU Local 1. “It’s the only way we can guarantee that workers will be able to participate in our growing economy.”

Democrats’ minimum wage press conference, March 7, 2019 | Nick Manes

House and Senate Democrats on Thursday called for the repeal of 2018 law that watered down a minimum wage increase for low-wage workers.

They’ve dubbed their plan, “Repeal the Steal.” It would reinstate the minimum wage increase from $9.25 per hour to $12 in 2022.

That’s what was called for under the One Fair Wage ballot initiative last year. The GOP-controlled Legislature adopted that in September, along with another petition that mandated sick leave. That maneuver kept the proposal off the November ballot, the Advance reported.

But after the election, Republicans quickly passed bills in Lame Duck that slow-walked the minimum wage hike and scaled back the sick time requirements. Progressive groups held Capitol protests.

GOP former Gov. Rick Snyder signed the bills into law.

Bill Sowerby

“No one working 40 hours a week should have to worry about whether they can afford to put food on the table or keep a roof over their head,” said state Rep. Bill Sowerby (D-Clinton Twp.), sponsor of HB 4299. “That was ultimately what the thousands of Michiganders supporting the original ballot proposal were fighting for — the economic security they deserve.”

Almost 320,000 Michigan residents earn a wage of $9.25 an hour or less, with more than 1 million, or 27 percent of those employed, earning at or below $12.

Under the 2018 law, the $12 threshold will not be reached until 2030. And unlike the ballot initiative, will not be indexed to keep up with inflation.

“As a working mom who has spent a lifetime getting to $15 an hour and has been plagued with the questions of uncertainty about how to keep it all together for my family, I know very well why this increase is so important, and that answer is simple: dignity,” said state Sen. Betty Jean Alexander (D-Detroit), sponsor of SB 168.

“Republicans stole that opportunity from the people who need it the most, and this legislation is a small step toward righting that unjust ship.”

Betty Jean Alexander

Alicia Renee Farris, state director of Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan and chair of the Michigan One Fair Wage steering committee, said that the new legislation will reduce the number of people needing government programs.

“Raising the minimum wage and phasing out the subminimum wage will help lift working families out of poverty and move them off public assistance so they can become more independent,” she said.

State Sen. Stephanie Chang (D-Detroit) has asked Attorney General Dana Nessel, a Democrat, to review the GOP’s actions last year on minimum wage and sick leave, as the Advance reported that .

GOP legislative leaders, however, hope to go around Nessel over questions on two ballot initiatives and instead go straight to the Michigan Supreme Court.

Business groups have traditionally opposed minimum wage hikes. Organizations like the Small Business Association of Michigan and the National Federation of Independent Businesses of Michigan, contend the changes last year were legal.

Advance reporter Nick Manes contributed to this story.

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman writes about Southeast Michigan, history and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on Black life in Detroit.