On Monday, February 13, the Michigan Needs a Raise Campaign held a press conference at the Kent Ionia Labor Council to “keep the issue out in the public.” This statewide campaign to raise the minimum wage in Michigan was kicked-off in Grand Rapids on December 10 by a coalition of groups and individuals, but this press conference looked more like a Democratic Party function. Denise Cadreau, Political Director of the AFL-CIO, welcomed people to the Press Conference and then quickly turned it over to Rep. Mark Schauer (D – Battle Creek), who said “Our commitment to strengthening Michigan’s economy must include a commitment to raise Michigan’s minimum wage.”
The next speaker was Rev. Robert Dean, who recently announced his candidacy for the seat that will be vacated in the State House by Jerry Kooiman due to term limits. After Dean spoke, state Senate candidate David LaGrande, a lawyer and owner of the Wealthy Street Bakery, spoke. Everything that Dean and LaGrande addressed was focused on getting more Democrats in the legislature so that proposals to raise the minimum wage could be passed by elected officials and not taken before the public. Joining the press conference late were two women with ACORN, a grassroots organization that is a partner in this statewide initiative. One of the women who spoke was a real minimum wage worker, single mother who spoke more passionately about the need to raise the minimum wage.
Then the floor was open to questions. A WOOD radio reporter asked if it seemed fair to give high school students a $6.85 wage being that they are just teenagers? The Channel 8 reporter said that she had talked to businesses and most of them were opposed to the wage increase saying that it would force business owners to raise prices. Then an unidentified reporter stated that the increase to $6.85 was still inadequate, to which the campaign people responded “that it would go up as inflation rose.” This reporter asked if agricultural workers were included in the wage raise and if not, why not. People stumbled to respond and then a woman with ACORN said it did include agricultural/migrant workers, only to later tell me that they were not after she conferred with the organization by phone. Agricultural workers have always been excluded from the federal minimum wage policies, but that does not prevent individual states from including those workers. In many ways, it seems that the approach that the campaign is taking is missing out on larger organizing opportunities with working people even though many of the people who are collecting signatures to put it on the ballot are approaching it from a more grassroots perspective.