Wage Hike Initiative Gets Going

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It wasn't a big turnout, by any means. Five people gathered outside the Capitol Saturday to drum up support for Raise Michigan's campaign to increase the minimum wage.

A slow start, organizers say, but they think the support for their initiative is out there.

"We're feeling confident," said Yannet Lathrop, who works for the Michigan League for Public Policy. "We know that there's a lot of support for increasing the minimum wage, so we are definitely very excited for this and we look forward to what comes in November."

After the State Board of Canvassers gave the ok this week, volunteers from the Raise Michigan campaign officially kicked off their campaigns Saturday.

They're trying to gather more than 258,000 signatures by the end of May for a proposal that would raise Michigan's minimum wage to $10.10 by 2017.

"That number resonates with a lot of people," said Lathrop. "It really does get the wage up to more or less what it used to be in 1968 when the minimum wage was at its highest in terms of real value."

The measure has plenty of opposition though. The Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Restaurant Association have both warned against passing the proposal as detrimental to business.

It's what has Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge) hesitant to support the plan, though he agrees it should be put to voters.

"I've heard from a number of businesses that are very nervous about the future and they want to keep open and they want to keep those jobs," he said.

In particular, Jones says he's concerned about pricing the young out of jobs. If restaurants have to cut back and pay more, he worries the youngest employees will be pushed aside.

Also concerning, Jones says is the increase to the wages of tipped workers. They only make $2.65 an hour in Michigan, but Jones says the tips bring them up to $12-14 an hour.

The ballot initiative would increase tipped wages by 85 cents an hour every year until they equal the minimum wage, something that Avenue Cafe Owner Colleen Keeley says would doom restaurants.

Wages are 30-35 percent of a restaurant's expenses as is, she said. She doubts restaurants could survive with waiters and waitresses if tipped wages are raised, she said.

But the Michigan League for Public Policy says its time to raise wages for a group that hasn't had a raise since 1991.

"When you look at how the cost of living continually goes up but the wage that we pay employees to live on doesn't, it doesn't make a lot of sense," said Shannon Nobles, who works in outreach for the Michigan League for Public Policy. "Really if you're working full-time you should be able to come home with a paycheck that at least goes towards making ends meet."

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