LANSING (AP) — Labor unions pushing for an increase in the state’s minimum wage may go to the voters to raise the rate if the Republican-controlled state Legislature doesn’t take up the issue.
Leaders of the AFL-CIO of Michigan and Service Employees International Union said yesterday they would prefer to see lawmakers approve a package of bills proposed by House and Senate Democrats to increase the minimum wage from $5.15 to $7.15 over two years. But they have not ruled out getting the issue on the 2006 general election ballot.
“This has to be done one way or another,” state AFL-CIO president Mark Gaffney said during a Capitol news conference to officially announce the proposed legislation.
Vaughn Thompson, director of the SEIU Michigan State Council, said voters would sign off on an increase in the minimum wage because it hasn’t gone up since 1997 when the federal government set it at its current level.
Supporters of a higher minimum wage would have to collect 254,206 petition signatures from Michigan voters to get an initiative on next year’s ballot.
A ballot measure may be the only way to increase the minimum wage in Michigan because Republican leaders in the House and Senate do not appear willing to sign off on the Democrats’ plan.
GOP House Speaker Craig DeRoche of Novi argued that it would increase labor costs and force employers to cut jobs and increase prices as the state’s economy continues to struggle.
“I think that the voters very clearly would understand that this is a job-killing proposal and that this is going to create a worse economic environment in Michigan, not a better one,” he said during a news conference in his Capitol office.
A number of business groups also plan to fight the Democrats’ minimum wage proposal, including the Detroit Regional Chamber, Small Business Association of Michigan and the Michigan Restaurant Association.
However, Republican Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema of Wyoming did not immediately dismiss the proposal.
Spokesman Ari Adler said supporters must show that the higher minimum wage would create jobs.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s dead on arrival, but it’s in need of serious life support,” Adler said. “It will go to a committee and we will consider it. We’re willing to listen to both sides.”
There is not much time for lawmakers to debate the Democrats’ proposal. The first 50-cent increase in the minimum wage is set for July 1 under their plan.
Gaffney said he and other union leaders will monitor legislative action on the proposed increase before deciding whether to go ahead with a ballot measure. He said they also will look at the campaigns of successful minimum wage ballot proposals in the states of Florida and Nevada.
Voters in Florida and Nevada voted overwhelmingly in November to increase the minimum wage by $1 in both states.