Activists: $15 minimum wage will bring workers back to the restaurant industry

One Fair Wage kicks off ballot petition drive

By: - February 1, 2022 11:53 am

Chantel Watkins, One Fair Wage Michigan lead organizer. | Ken Coleman photo

Michigan restaurant owners, workers and activists gathered on Monday to launch a petition gathering effort for a November 2022 state ballot measure to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.

“Workers are no longer willing to work for sub-minimum wages, and hundreds of employers have raised wages to recruit staff,” said Chantel Watkins, One Fair Wage Michigan lead organizer, during a Monday press conference in Detroit. “Workers need a living wage and employers need it. too, to get workers back in restaurants.”

Nadia Nijimbere and Hamissi Mamba | Baobab Fare photo

Nadia Nijimbere, owner of Baobab Fare restaurant in Midtown Detroit, agrees with the One Fair Wage effort. The East African cuisine eatery hosted the press conference. 

“We do what we can,” said Mamba about paying the highest wages possible to employees. “As a business owner, I care about how we treat our employees.” 

Following legislation enacted in 2014, Michigan’s minimum wage increased earlier this month by 22 cents to $9.87 an hour. For tipped employees, the hourly wage increased to $3.75, an increase of 8 cents per hour. For hourly workers 16 to 17 years old, the rate increased by 19 cents to $8.39 per hour.

Watkins said that her organization’s goal is to collect 500,000 signatures. State law requires that 340,047 valid signatures be collected. 

The effort comes after a 2018 statewide measure that would have hiked the hourly wage would have risen to $12 by 2022, and included an increase based on inflation rates after 2022. The separate tipped wage would have been phased out by 2024 and then would rise to the same level as that for other workers. There also was a proposal to mandate sick leave for workers.

After those initiatives collected enough signatures, the GOP-led Legislature adopted them in September 2018 so they did not go before voters. Then in the Lame Duck session, lawmakers passed new watered-down versions that were signed by GOP then-Gov. Rick Snyder. Afterward, the Michigan Supreme Court declined to give an opinion on the GOP’s “adopt and amend” maneuver.

One Fair Wage released polling that indicated strong support for the minimum wage increase among Democratic voters. 

“At least 55,000 workers have left the Michigan restaurant industry — that’s one in 8 workers statewide — and nearly 80% are saying the only thing that would make them come back is a full minimum wage with tips on top,” said Watkins.

According to poll results, a plurality of voters say that they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the measure (42% more likely), including nearly a third who say they would be much more likely to do so (31% much more likely).

A supporter signs a One Fair Wage petition. | Ken Coleman photo

A call to the Michigan Republican Party was not returned. 

More than four in 10 voters said that having the minimum wage increase on the ballot would make them more excited to vote in 2022 (41% more excited) compared to only 5% who say it would make them less likely.

Among Democratic surge voters, a majority would be more excited to vote in 2022 if the measure is on the ballot (55% more excited) and nearly two thirds of Black mothers say that it would make them more excited to vote (63% more excited).

Six in 10 voters (61%) agreed that “fair wages, decent working conditions, and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, help ensure that each of us and our families can be healthy, have more control over our economic security, and live with dignity.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice 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, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.