Michigan Coalition Working to Get Minimum Wage Raise on Ballot

MGN Online
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If given the chance, would you vote to raise the minimum wage?

A coalition made up of civil rights and labor groups called "Raise Michigan" announced Monday it's exploring the option for a ballot campaign, but has not yet started collecting signatures.

A formal decision on whether to move forward with the campaign is expected in the next few weeks.

"This is a big issue and we know public support is definitely on our side," said Danielle Atkinson, the director of Mothering Justice, which is one of the members of the coalition.

Atkinson said she and the rest of the committee feel confident it's the right time to take the issue to voters.

Fast food workers across the country made headlines late last year when many of them walked off their jobs to protest low wages.

The minimum wage in Michigan was last increased in 2008 when it went from $7.15 to the current $7.40. Michigan's minimum wage is slightly higher than the $7.25 federal minimum.

For Shillo Wright, who is in her third year at Michigan State as a full time student, being on her own financially while working a minimum wage job in her spare time can be frustrating.

"It's very frustrating to know that my future is going to be debt," Wright said.

"When you think about books, when you think about tuition, food, if you live off campus with those types of expenses, it's very unrealistic to be able to pay all that with the $7.40 an hour wage."

Proponents of the new proposal say the pay hasn't kept up with the costs of living.

But Wendy Block, the director of health policy and human resources for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce says a raise will end up hurting more than it helps.

"We know that when government gets involved in mandating wage increases that employment among those affected will drop," Block said.

Block argues higher wages force employers to cut positions rather than pay up, or just overlook low-skilled workers altogether.

"We are very concerned that if voters do decide if they believe minimum wage increase is appropriate, about the impact it will have on the very population this proposal is intended to help," she said.

Meanwhile, Charles Ballard, an economics professor at Michigan State says there's no clear-cut correct answer, but his research suggests the gains will outweigh the potential losses.

"If you look at the data and the times when there was an increase in minimum wage, you don't see huge spikes in unemployment," Ballard said.

"A modest increase could do a lot of good because it would boost the incomes of a lot of families that are cramped for spending... but the bigger the increase the more danger we run into."

Recent legislation from Democratic lawmakers has proposed raising the rate to $10 or more an hour. The ballot campaign hasn't named a specific figure yet.

The coalition would need to collect about 200,000 signatures to place the initiative on the Nov. 2014 ballot.

Members of the coalition include the Center for Progressive Leadership, Michigan United, MOSES, the Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC) Michigan, and Mothering Justice.

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