Group gets go-ahead for minimum wage ballot drive

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LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Organizers of a drive to gradually raise Michigan’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $10.10 an hour by 2017 and automatically increase it with inflation in future years got the green light Wednesday to collect signatures.

If the Raise Michigan group gathers roughly 258,000 valid signatures by late May, the proposed law would first go the Republican-led Legislature. Since GOP lawmakers are unlikely to embrace a minimum wage hike or to propose an alternative, the measure appears headed to a statewide vote in November assuming enough signatures are secured.

The minimum wage for tipped employees would gradually increase from the current $2.65 until it reaches the minimum wage for other workers.

“People who work hard should be able to get a fair wage and not have to live in poverty,” said Frank Houston, treasurer of Raise Michigan and director of Restaurant Opportunities Center-Michigan, which advocates for restaurant workers.

After the Board of State Canvassers approved the form of the minimum wage petition Wednesday, he said the three-month window to collect signatures is “a little tight” but pledged enough would be turned in. Labor unions, community organizers and other groups are leading the drive.

Michigan’s minimum wage is slightly higher than the $7.25 federal minimum.

Critics of a higher minimum wage say it would hurt the economy.

A report by Congress’ nonpartisan budget analysts on Tuesday concluded a gradual increase to $10.10 per hour by 2016 - which is what President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats are seeking - would increase pay for more than 16.5 million people but also cost a half-million jobs.

Justin Winslow, vice president of government affairs for the Michigan Restaurant Association, expressed concern in particular with making Michigan’s minimum wage for tipped employees the same as it is for other workers. State law requires businesses to ensure tipped employees make at least the $7.40 hourly minimum wage.

“Eliminating the tip minimum wage is unique and not something you’re seeing anywhere else,” he said. “It’s not exaggeration, it’s not hyperbole to say there will be several restaurants that will shut their doors if you’re going to completely eliminate a tip minimum wage.”

Forty-three states have some version of a tip minimum wage, Winslow said.

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; 36 percent opposed it. The poll had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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