ANN ARBOR (WWJ/AP) – President Barack Obama is bringing the minimum wage fight to Michigan.
Obama, who has endorsed legislation to gradually raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $10.10 by 2016, will speak Wednesday on the issue at the University of Michigan.
Democrats in the U.S. Senate are planning votes on a bill, but Republicans are working to block it. Similarly, GOP lawmakers in Michigan are unlikely to embrace a minimum wage hike, so a coalition of civil rights, faith, labor and community groups wants voters to decide.
Raise Michigan needs to gather 258,000 valid signatures by late next month to put before the Legislature a measure that would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $10.10 an hour by 2017 and automatically increase it with inflation in future years. The minimum wage for tipped employees would gradually increase from $2.65 until it reaches the minimum wage for other workers.
The White House has said raising the minimum wage would benefit more than 970,000 workers in Michigan.
“People in Michigan shouldn’t be working full-time and still living in poverty,” said Ryan Bates, one of the organizers of the Raise Michigan effort. “The issue resonates deeply. Everyone understands what it means to work hard but not get ahead.”
Michigan Restaurant Association CEO Brian DeBano said Raise Michigan’s proposal is “well-intentioned,” but wrong for the state, saying it will increase menu prices, cost Michigan jobs and force many businesses to close their doors.
“I don’t think there’s any mistake to be made that if the proposal passes in Michigan, not only will menu prices increase, Michigan will lose jobs and many restaurants will honestly be put out of business,” DeBano told WWJ Newsradio 950. “A lot of the mom and pops just won’t be able to stay around if these things pass.”
Wallace Hopp, senior associate dean at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, said “the political statements we keep hearing that minimum wage laws are job killers simply doesn’t jibe with the facts.
“According to “extensive research that has been done on whether minimum wage hikes have a significant impact on employment,” Hopp said, “the preponderance of evidence is that they do not.”
If Raise Michigan secures the requisite number of signatures and state lawmakers do not act on the measure, it would head to a statewide vote in November. It’s hard to say how the issue would fare on the ballot, but recent polling indicates there is support.
According to a survey of 600 likely Michigan voters conducted Feb. 5-11 by EPIC-MRA, 60 percent of respondents supported raising the minimum wage to $10 an hour, while 36 percent opposed it. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.
Obama is also using his call for a higher minimum wage to help boost a Michigan congressman running for the Senate. Rep. Gary Peters will join Obama at U-M Wednesday, making him the first Senate candidate to embrace the president’s message and the chance to appear with him before voters this year.
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