The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, May 23, 2014

The will of the people? No, the will of the GOP determine minimum wage hike in Michigan

By Marty Mulcahy, Editor

LANSING – Maybe, maybe, Michigan should raise the minimum wage. But only on the terms of the state Republican lawmakers.

That seems to be the message from those in control of the state Capitol, as an ongoing petition drive that would eventually raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour is getting a lot of negative attention from the state GOP. The state minimum wage is currently $7.40 per hour, an amount that has been in place since 2008 and is not indexed for inflation.

On May 15, the state Senate passed a raise in the state’s minimum wage to $9.20 per hour by 2017 (and from $2.65 per hour to $3.50 per hour for tipped employees). The measure passed by a vote of 24-14. Ten of the 12 Democrats in the Senate joined 16 Republicans in approving the measure. But the Dems protested the way the bill circumvented a petition drive which would have raised the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour.

If the bill is adopted in the House, it would scuttle the petition drive because the petition would seek to change a law that would no longer exist. Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville sponsored the legislation.

Critics, including sponsors of the petition drive, the Michigan AFL-CIO and the entire Democratic caucus in the state Legislature, charge that Richardville’s proposed higher minimum wage is a way to circumvent the petition drive while raising the minimum wage, a little, during an election year.

“The Legislature should be serving the people of Michigan, not suppressing them,” said Senator Bert Johnson (D-Detroit), who has sponsored previous legislation to legitimately raise the minimum wage. “Sadly, this is just the latest in a series of moves by Republican legislators to circumvent and even override the democratic process that is the bedrock of our government. This debate isn’t even about the issue of raising Michigan’s minimum wage. It’s about the constitutional right for Michigan citizens to change the laws of our state.”

House Minority Leader Tim Greimel told MIRS News Service that “it’s offensive that the Richardville bill is apparently designed to undermine the constitutional rights of the voters of Michigan to have a vote on what the wage level should be.”

Still, the proposal to increase the wage to $9.20 was welcomed by organized labor. “The bill that passed today was a significant improvement from prior legislation. However, the work is far from done. This is a step in the right direction towards economic security for Michigan families,” said Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift. “The winners today are workers across Michigan and the grassroots activists that raised awareness and brought about change.”

The petition effort by Raise Michigan began in February. It would raise the state’s minimum wage to $10.10 an hour over three years and index it to inflation. The group said last week it has collected the 258,000 signatures needed in order for the wage increase to be placed on the Nov. 4, 2014 general election ballot.

Richardville told MIRS News Service that he’s frustrated that out-of-state money is bankrolling the petition drive, and that he’s not convinced is “good for our citizens. I’d rather draw people to the table and find a reasonable compromise rather than ram this at somebody,” he said. “Let’s sit down and talk about it. Obviously, there is support for a minimum wage increase. I’m glad to have that conversation, but let’s make sure we’re not going to kill jobs in the meantime.”

The labor-backed Economic Policy Institute said raising the minimum wage actually would create jobs because it “puts more money in the pockets of working families when they need it most….” Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich has said no jobs were lost during periods after past minimum wage increases.

Gov. Rick Snyder has been noncommittal about supporting a minimum wage raise. Mark Schauer, the state’s Democratic candidate for governor, was an early proponent for raising the wage, to $9.25 per hour over three years. “This is about simple economics,” Schauer said earlier this year. “When working families have more to spend on everyday necessities like gas, groceries and clothes for the kids, it creates demand for the economy. When demand increases, small businesses grow and hire more workers. It is also morally the right thing to do for our families.”

On a federal level, most Republicans are staunchly against a minimum wage hike. “Senate Republicans of nearly all stripes are opposed to raising the hourly minimum wage to $10.10 as Democrats demand, despite polling showing large majorities supporting the issue,” said Politico on May 14.

Interestingly, former GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney supports a wage hike. “I part company with many of the conservatives in my party on the issue of the minimum wage,” Romney said. “I think we ought to raise it.”