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On Aug. 27, the One Fair Wage Michigan ballot committee filed proposed ballot language after the Michigan Court of Appeals ordered that One Fair Wage be on Michigan’s November 2018 ballot.
The proposed ballot measure language calls for raising the minimum wage to $12 an hour for all workers, including tipped workers. Over 1 million workers and their families, including not only service industry workers but also healthcare workers and educators, would benefit from this proposal, with higher incomes and greater ability to contribute to the Michigan economy. This minimum wage increase for Michigan workers would be a $3.1 billion boom to our local economies. When people have more expendable income they buy more things and create more jobs.
This is simple economics 101.
Corporate trade lobbies who do not want to give their workers a raise and their friends in the state Legislature continue to try to keep this issue off the ballot, because they know the public overwhelmingly supports raising the minimum wage and because they know that the issue would encourage working people, people of color, young people, and women to the polls to vote in this important November election.
We now hear that a subset of state legislators are attempting an underhanded maneuver in which they would pass the measure to keep it off the ballot and then gut it after the election in a lame duck session. They are particularly talking about cutting tipped workers out of the legislation after the election. This is a shameful attempt to suppress our state’s least advantaged voters.
This maneuver would also leave the state’s lowest-wage workers behind.
Tipped workers in the nation’s capital are currently paid $3.52 as a base wage, with “tips on top” intended to bring them up to the current minimum wage of $9.50. This assumes, of course, that all employers are fully compliant in ensuring that this minimum is, in fact, met.
This two-tiered wage system is fundamentally flawed, and it is particularly harmful to the professional, hard-working women who are 70 percent of restaurant workers nationwide. Raising the tipped wage to the full minimum wage is not just a matter of economic justice, but also gender and racial equity.
Restaurant workers who rely on tips to feed their own families are forced to endure whatever their customers, coworkers, and managers choose to dish out — which is why incidences of sexual harassment occur with twice the regularity in states with a two-tiered wage system for tipped versus non-tipped workers.
The solution lies in shifting the power imbalance. If servers are less dependent on tips, they no longer have to tolerate abusive behavior simply to make ends meet. If they are paid a fair wage by their employer — rather than having the customer assume the responsibility for the bulk of their wages — they are assured the security of a reliable, livable paycheck.
The seven states that have already eliminated the antiquated two-tiered wage system and instead have adopted “One Fair Wage” for all workers have proven that better wages lead to better tips. They have proven that the restaurant industry can continue to thrive despite raising wages. And they have proven that we can cut sexual harassment in half through the implementation of this simple, fair policy.
More than 400,000 Michigan voters have signed petitions to put One Fair Wage on the ballot. They did so because they know how important it is to allow all workers —including tipped workers — the right to a stable wage that allows them to make ends meet.
Unless they can guarantee that the measure as written will remain intact, the Michigan State legislature should follow the will of the voters — their own constituents — and allow One Fair Wage to be placed on the November ballot.
(Pete Vargas is campaign manager of One Fair Wage.)