LANSING, Mich. — A small group associated with One Fair Wage Michigan gathered in downtown Lansing on Tuesday to rally for an increase in the state minimum wage.
The rally is part of an ongoing push to raise the minimum wage after legislation from 2018 that would have done so was watered down by the Republican-led legislature.
That year, the campaign Time to Care received enough signatures to put two measures on the statewide ballot. One would have required employers to provide paid sick leave. The other would have raised the minimum wage to $12 by 2022.
Instead, the Republican-controlled legislature adopted the bills and, after the November election, amended them with a simple majority, delaying the $12 minimum wage hike until 2030 and excluding huge numbers of Michigan workers from the paid sick leave measure.
Rally-goers called those changes unconstitutional. That's the contention of a recent lawsuit that names Attorney General Dana Nessel as a defendant.
“Our goal is to get Attorney General Nessel to be our hero,” said Chantel Watkins, the lead organizer for One Fair Wage Michigan. “One Fair Wage was voted on and enacted by [the Michigan legislature] in 2018 but it was taken off the books. The former attorney general ruled that that was okay. That was unconstitutional.”
Watkins explained that protesters want to see Nessel support the movement and repeal former Attorney General Bill Schuette’s decision.
Nessel has said in a statement that she agrees that what the legislature did was unconstitutional but believes she is the wrong defendant in this instance and has filed a motion to dismiss on that basis.
The restaurant industry is notorious for low pay and restaurant workers felt the full financial effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the restaurant industry is one of the largest sectors of Michigan's economy, on average workers make $395 per week according to the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget.
Tracy Pease who is a former restaurant worker, argued that people who work 40 hours a week should at least be able to pay their bills.
“I was a server in many different restaurants, over 100 different restaurants in almost 32 years and we never counted on our checks. We had to worry about our tips,” she said. “You had to rely on the customer’s generosity and they were not obligated to tip you but I was obligated to pay my bills.”
Pease was a part of the effort in 2018 to get signatures to put the measures on the ballot.
“I helped deliver 373,000 signatures, we needed 268,000 valid signatures and we got them,” she said. “The Republican House, the Republican Senate passed One Fair Wage only to go ahead and gut it.”
Pease said she wants to see legislators step up for their constituents and start paying workers a fair wage.
“It is time for our senators, it is time for our congresspeople to do their job and take care of the people,” she said. “Take care of the people that we found out who were actually essential over the COVID-19 pandemic. Sign the bill, pay the people.”
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