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Coalition forms to increase minimum wage

By Shoham Geva, Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 30, 2014

Five community groups and organizations announced Monday the formation of a new ballot committee, Raise Michigan, which will explore the feasibility of a November ballot initiative to raise the minimum wage in the state.

The committee has not yet officially declared its intent to launch a campaign for the ballot initiative since formal language regarding the proposed policy has not been submitted. However, Frank Houston, director of the Restaurant Opportunities Center of Michigan, which is a part of the coalition, said Tuesday the committee will most likely do so soon.

“Right now it’s technically just an exploration phase,” Houston said. “But the reality is what we’ve seen and why we’ve formed this committee is that when you look at what’s happened in Michigan, not just recently but historically, around minimum wage, it takes something like this to get an increase done.”

In its initial announcement, Raise Michigan outlined three main goals for its campaign: raising the minimum wage from its current rate of $7.40 per hour to a figure between $9 and $10 per hour, raising the minimum wage for restaurant servers and tying the minimum wage to the inflation index.

To place the question on the ballot, the group would have to gather either 258,088 voter signatures if the ballot question is for a new law, or 322,609 voter signatures if the question is a proposed amendment to the Michigan Constitution.

Minimum wage has been a popular topic state-wide and nationally. Tuesday night, President Barack Obama announced during his State of the Union address that he will be signing an executive order to raise the minimum wage of new federal contractors to $10.10.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer said in November that if he’s elected, he plans to raise the state’s minimum wage to $9.25. Thursday, U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) and state Reps. Adam Zemke (D–Ann Arbor) and Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) held a lunch meeting at Zingerman’s Delicatessen with the shop’s co-owner, Paul Saginaw, to discuss raising the minimum wage.

In their meeting, Zemke said nearly 85 percent of democrats and 50 percent of republicans support raising minimum wage.

“I think it’s kind of a no-brainer,” he said. “I think if they put it on the ballot and they managed to get that, I think it would pass without a problem.”

While students are not the core demographic for all these measures — most have an emphasis on aiding full-time minimum wage workers — for those who do work, there could be several possible outcomes as a result of the new legislation.

LSA freshman Cassandra Martinez, who works at the Victors café in Mosher-Jordan Residence Hall, said for her, even a small increase in wage would be significant because of the fewer number of hours students are typically able to work.

“Even a dollar would make a big difference because we work like a minimum of maybe three, four hours a week,” she said. “Everything makes a difference at this point.”

Martinez currently makes $9 per hour, but she added that even with that wage--which is the new minimum that the Raise Michigan coalition is currently proposing--making ends meet as a student is difficult.

“Trying to live off $9 an hour and dealing with schoolwork and extracurriculars — like for me, I play a club sport — and trying to do things that I want is really hard,” Martinez said.

University alum Emily Taylor, the general manager at Mia Za’s Café, agreed that working enough to satisfy financial needs as a student can be difficult.

“The whole purpose of my job my senior year was to pay rent, and I just barely made it, and I was working between 18-20 hours a week,” Taylor said. “And my rent was low, it was a cheap place, and it was still only just barely coming in.”

She added that at least at Mia Za’s, the move to increase minimum wage could decrease how many new positions are open to students, prompting instead a shift to more hours for existing workers.

In terms of employment at the University, which provides a large number of the jobs students have, the impact might be less severe.

In an e-mail interview, Vickie Crupper, associate director for Client Services in the Office of Financial Aid, wrote that when it comes to student jobs at the University, there have historically been more vacant positions than willing students.

“Because each department at the University has control over their own operating budget, it is difficult for our office to know if there will be any impact,” she wrote. “After the last minimum wage increase, the University still had more student temporary positions available than there were students interested in filling them.”

Overall, Houston said when it comes to state-by-state comparison, Michigan isn’t the worst in terms of minimum wage, but it’s certainly not the best.

“A lot of the states that actually have lower unemployment than Michigan, and have higher small business growth, and have similar inflation rates all have higher minimum wages for tipped employees and regular employees,” Houston said. “I think it’s long overdue that Michigan joins the pack.”