$15 minimum wage initiative submits 610k signatures for 2024 ballot

LANSING, MI – As a court battle rolls on over whether to raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $12 an hour, the group behind that effort says it has enough support from voters to hike it even more.

One Fair Wage, the national nonprofit leading the effort, said it submitted over 610,000 petition signatures to the Secretary of State on Tuesday, July 26 for its Raise the Wage initiative. The proposed 2024 ballot measure would raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2027 and phase out a lower-than-minimum wage for tipped, disabled and youth workers.

Leaders said they broke the record for the most signatures ever submitted for a Michigan legislative petition.

“This is going to help hundreds of thousands of Michiganders get a raise that’s much needed,” said Raise the Wage co-chair Maricela Gutierrez.

The signature deadline for initiatives to appear on the November 2022 ballot was June 1, which Raise the Wage missed “out of an abundance of caution,” One Fair Wage president Saru Jayaraman said at the time, in the wake of a petition fraud scandal that cut the Republican governor’s race in half.

Signature gatherers had collected nearly 500,000, One Fair Wage said then, including nearly 460,000 by paid circulators.

“We’ve gone through a very rigorous process to try to validate every single signature that signed this petition,” co-chair Dave Woodward said Tuesday, adding that he feels “very confident” they will pass inspection.

The campaign had two validity firms check signatures, the co-chairs said, and around 50,000 signatures weren’t turned in, mostly because they were duplicates.

Raise the Wage will be on the November 2024 ballot if a Bureau of Elections review finds enough valid signatures and the Board of State Canvassers approves. It needs 340,047 signatures to be valid, just over half of what they submitted.

Opposition group Michigan Opportunity, a coalition of businesses, said Tuesday that Raise the Wage’s delay in submitting signatures raises questions about signature validity, and spokesperson John Sellek said the Bureau must have “zero tolerance” for forgery.

Initiative supporters and opponents are allowed to examine signatures as part of the Bureau’s process. Sellek said Michigan Opportunity will strongly consider legal action should defects become apparent.

The legislature can pass the initiative into law within 40 days after being approved for the ballot. Eight states and the District of Columbia have a $15 minimum wage or are planning for it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In 2018, One Fair Wage’s petition to raise Michigan’s minimum wage to $12 by 2022 and guarantee sick leave for workers got enough signatures for that November’s ballot. But the Republican-controlled legislature voted to adopt it before the election.

After the election, legislators amended it to lower the wage and increase sick leave. A Court of Claims judge ruled last week this adopt-and-amend strategy was unconstitutional, therefore setting up the unamended law to take effect.

With the appeals process ongoing, however, businesses have not changed their wages.

Read more: Lawyers want Michigan minimum wage, sick leave hikes paused amid court battle

Raise the Wage would increase Michigan’s minimum wage – currently $9.87 per hour – by one dollar a year until it hits $15 in 2027.

Because it was originally planned for the 2022 ballot, the increases go like this: $11 in 2023, $12 in 2024, $13 in 2025, $14 in 2026 and $15 in 2027. These increases would happen regardless of the unemployment rate, the initiative reads, and increases after 2027 would be based on inflation.

Raise the Wage would also adjust the minimum wage for tipped workers over those years – currently $3.75 per hour – until it matches the minimum wage for all employees.

“The subminimum wage was created during emancipation, when restaurant owners did not want to pay Black people for their labor and wanted them to live exclusively on tips,” Gutierrez said.

Employees would also have a legal right to keep tips unless they agreed to share with non-managers, and the state would be barred from lowering the minimum wage based on a worker’s age, disability or status as an apprentice.

If the $12 minimum wage goes into effect, it will not affect the $15 proposal, Raise the Wage’s co-chairs said, as the wage would just jump to $13 in 2025 if voters approve. Also, the high profile of the current court battle, they said, should help promote the $15 proposal through 2024.

“People are going to see a raise starting next year, and then they’ll be able to build momentum in 2024 to vote themselves another raise, which is really needed,” Gutierrez said.

Sellek argues, however, the 2024 initiative would be moot if the adopt-and-amend overturning sticks, because, “You can’t seek to alter laws that no longer exist.”

Raise the Wage was one of 10 legislative initiatives shooting for the 2022 ballot, but only one – a proposal to crack down on payday loans – submitted signatures by the deadline. The Board of State Canvassers voted last week to keep it off the ballot after the Bureau of Elections estimated it fell well short of the required valid signatures.

Read more from MLive:

Lawyers want Michigan minimum wage, sick leave hikes paused amid court battle

Payday loan initiative will not make Michigan ballot, canvassers rule

Michigan abortion rights, voting access ballot decisions expected in August

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