Minimum wage wins, even in a conservative-controlled jurisdiction

Posted on June 24, 2014

Can progressives win a minimum wage hike even in conservative-controlled state? Yes, by playing smart, aggressive politics.

A few weeks ago, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation to raise that state’s minimum wage from $7.40 to $9.25 per hour. The increase will occur in four stages: $8.15/hour will take effect in September, then the minimum wage will go up to $8.50 at the beginning of 2016, $8.90 in 2017 and $9.25 in 2018.

This isn’t ideal, of course. We want a $10.10 minimum wage and much sooner than 2018. But this victory is remarkable because conservative Republicans control not only the governor’s seat, but also both houses of the Michigan state legislature. In fact, this is the first time that a Republican-controlled state legislature has raised the minimum wage in many, many years.

It is quite extraordinary and it wouldn’t have happened without the tireless efforts of PLI’s Michigan State Director Dave Woodward.

Early last year, Dave was participating in one of our Voicing Our Values messaging webinars about the minimum wage. Inspired by what he learned, he helped field (and pay for) a Michigan statewide poll in 2013 that proved over 70 percent of residents favor a substantial minimum wage increase.

Dave, who is a former state legislator, helped create the coalition that pushed to raise the minimum wage. He worked with Raise Michigan to kick off the most ambitious minimum wage ballot initiative campaign in the nation. The proposal was to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour, index it for inflation, and entirely phase out the lower minimum wage for tipped employees so they would have the same minimum as everyone else.

From the beginning, traditional political allies told them, “Don’t do it!” Some were concerned a minimum wage campaign would be outspent by corporate interest—and maybe lose. Others were concerned the effort may take money away from other political activities in 2014.

Dave and Raise Michigan decided to go ahead anyway.

In less than 24 hours, the day before Raise Michigan was to turn in their 320,000 petitions, Republicans repealed the minimum wage law and replaced it with their new one, described above, that will raise the minimum wage to $9.25 an hour, index it for inflation (never before done in Michigan), and raise the “tipped” wage to $3.51 (the first increase for tipped workers in more than 20 years).

Make no mistake—conservatives would not have raised the minimum wage one penny if they were not scared to death of the ballot effort passing and helping drive turnout for progressives in the November.

Obviously progressives are not satisfied with $9.25 and a lesser wage for “tipped” workers. However, there is no denying that this is a tremendous victory for working people and that it never would have happened without our own Dave Woodward, the Restaurant Opportunities Center, Raise Michigan, and other bold Michigan progressives who had the courage to fight while being told they would fail.

Lesson learned: Progressives only put points on the board when we go on the offense.