Building on its precedent of addressing major state and national issues, The Michigan Student Assembly approved a resolution yesterday to support the concept of raising the minimum wage in Michigan to $6.85.
The assembly also agreed to plan and fund an unbiased panel event for students about the wage issue.
Members of the Raise the Wage Student Coalition, a student group advocating an increase in the state’s minimum wage, attended last night’s MSA meeting wearing green clothing to show their size and strength as they promoted the resolution.
The panel will be composed of experts from both sides of the issue. Coalition members said the panel’s purpose will be to educate students about the pros and cons of increasing the minimum wage.
The coalition believes MSA’s response is important to its success.
“MSA support is important because they are the voice of the students,” said Ryan Bates, who represented one of the groups in the coalition, Students Organizing for Labor and Economic Equality. “It is their role as a body to inform students, but also they are who we elect to stand up for what is right in the interest of the students.”
At the meeting, MSA General Counsel Russ Garber objected MSA addressing large issues such as increasing the minimum wage.
“This is something that isn’t under MSA’s jurisdiction,” he said. “If five people care about something it’s a student issue. These are major national and international issues. It is not an issue MSA should be dealing with in this form.”
The coalition argues that MSA support is a vital ally of the student body to promote the issues student groups support.
“We see it as a compelling social justice issue and these sentiments are shared by many students in the student body,” said Pam Baker, coalition member and chair of Students for Public Interest Research Group in Michigan.
The assembly ignored Garber’s objections, voting to pass the resolution 25 to 5 with 4 abstaining.
The District of Columbia and 14 states including California, New York, Illinois and Florida have minimum wages higher than the federal minimum wage of $5.15.
The minimum wage in Michigan has been $5.15 for nine years even as inflation has eroded the buying power of that figure. Working full-time while making the minimum wage, a worker makes $10,712 a year, $5,000 below the federal poverty line.
The coalition includes members from several student groups including SOLE, the College Democrats, the Black Student Union and the Michigan Progressive Party. These groups’ goal is to get 20,000 signatures from the University community in support of the ballot initiative. The coalition will start collecting signatures on Jan. 16.
Statewide, groups including the Michigan Democratic Party hope to gather 500,000 signatures in support of raising the minimum wage. In order to place the initiative on the November ballot 355,000 signatures are needed by June 1, 2006, but supporters hope to gather more to offset any petitions that may be discarded because of flaws.
If volunteers are able to meet the quota of signatures, the issue of raising the minimum wage will be put on the November ballot. If passed, the minimum wage will rise to $6.85 and be tied to inflation, meaning it will likely reach $7.15 in about two years and continue to increase.
The College Republicans have not made public a position on the issue, but chair John Kelly said he personally disagrees with the minimum wage ballot initiative because it bypasses the Legislature and undermines the choices of the voting population and the officials they elected.
“Trying to circumvent elected chambers isn’t necessarily an appropriate way of handling this,” Kelly said. “The representatives are put in place by the citizens, which indicates the general preferences of the constituent.”
The coalition believes raising the minimum wage will have positive effects on the student body, low-income workers in Michigan and on the economy.
“People believe in the idea of a living wage,” Baker said. “People should be able to support themselves no matter what job they have.”
Some conservatives think raising the minimum wage is an ineffective way to combat poverty.
The University’s chapter of Young Americans for Freedom opposes an increase in minimum wage because businesses do not have short-term control over revenue, which they use to pay their workers. With a wage increase they say, one of the consequences is lowering the number of workers.
“Raising the minimum wage will be harmful to the entire state,” YAF vice-chair Clark Ruper said. “Such an action will most directly hurt those it is trying to help. No matter what, the businesses will suffer along with the low-wage workers they must let go.”
The Raise the Wage coalition points to evidence from the 14 states that already have increased minimum wages. According to the Raise the Wage Coalition, states with raised minimum wages have seen no job loss and no evidence of increased inflation.
“Evidence shows they have better economic growth, better unemployment and better small business growth,” Bates said.
Support for raising the minimum wage is present in Michigan and important for students, the coalition says.
“Seventy percent of Michigan supports raising the minimum wage,” Bates said. “It is also an issue for students who are increasingly being priced out by the increasing tuition and funding cuts. More and more students are finding it more difficult to pay for books and work low-paid service industry jobs.”
Some conservatives believe that young workers would be the first to lose their jobs after an increase in the minimum wage and that creating new higher-paying jobs is better than paying more for minimum-wage jobs.
“It’s primarily an issue for high school students with that level of employment,” Kelly said. “It’s better to have more jobs than less.”