This week, Michigan’s minimum wage will be raised to $9.45 in the first of a dozen annual increases building up to a $12.05 minimum wage in 2030. It’s good news on the surface—but not nearly as good as it should have been.
Though the law passed last December, this story really starts last summer, when two petition drives—One Fair Wage, which would increase the state minimum wage to $12 over four years and bring tipped workers up to the same minimum wage as every other worker; and an initiative to guarantee earned paid sick time to Michigan workers—gained enough signatures to make the November ballot.
Instead of letting voters decide on the issues, Republicans in the legislature made use of a provision in the state constitution allowing them to pass the initiatives into law instead. Unfortunately, they did so not out of goodwill for working folks, but because it’d be easier to pull the rug out from Michigan’s working families by going back to gut the reforms if they passed the laws themselves than if they let voters pass it as a ballot initiative. Whether this “adopt and amend” strategy was constitutional is yet to be determined.
Republican legislators are the ones who cast the votes that undermined our democracy and watered down reforms that would have helped Michigan workers, but we also have to acknowledge the real, behind-the-scenes villains of the story: corporate lobbyists with the Michigan Chamber of Commerce and the Michigan Restaurant Association.
Much like the DeVos family, the Chamber and MRA have a lot of money—and they use it to influence elected officials to pass laws that advance the interests of the wealthy with no concern for working Michiganders. The Chamber opposed increasing the minimum wage in 2014 and again last year, and vocally supported lawmakers’ move to gut minimum wage and earned paid sick time laws during lame duck.
In a post on their website discussing the minimum wage and earned paid sick time laws about to take effect, the Chamber freely admits that both of the original proposals were “all but certain to pass” if the people had been able to vote, while praising lawmakers’ decision to undermine them. They knew the people of Michigan wanted fair wages, and they didn’t care.
This isn’t the first time the Chamber has worked against our best interests to increase corporate profits, and it won’t be the last. From supporting the emergency manager law that poisoned Flint’s water to joining attempts to undermine the Affordable Care Act to opposing the ballot initiative that ended partisan gerrymandering in Michigan, it’s hard to find an issue they haven’t been on the wrong side of.
Our elected officials should be working to pass policies that benefit ordinary Michiganders, not letting corporate lobbyists call the shots. If we want a government that’s truly of, by, and for the people, curbing the outsized influence groups like the MI Chamber of Commerce have on our political system sounds like a pretty good start.