LANSING, Mich. — Backers of a $9.50 hourly minimum wage in Michigan sought approval Monday to collect signatures needed to put their measure on the ballot in November.
If Raise Michigan gathers roughly 258,000 valid signatures by the late May deadline, the proposed law would first go the Republican-led Legislature, which would have 40 days to vote or leave it to voters. Since GOP lawmakers have not embraced raising the state's minimum wage above $7.40, the measure would likely head to a statewide vote.
Legislators also could reject the legislation and approve their own minimum wage bill, in which case both measures would be put before voters.
The drive to increase the wage was first announced two weeks ago, but labor unions, community organizers and other groups leading the effort did not detail specifics of the proposal — including the exact wage hike — until Monday, when petition language was submitted to the secretary of state's office.
"We need to raise the minimum wage to at least $9.50 an hour to ensure a family of three has a fighting chance to get out of poverty," said Frank Houston, treasurer of the ballot committee and director of Restaurant Opportunities Center-Michigan, which advocates for restaurant workers.
A worker making $9.50 per hour, 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year earns $19,760 — right at the federal poverty level for a family of three this year.
Michigan's minimum wage is slightly higher than the $7.25 federal minimum.
Under the proposal, the $7.40 wage would increase by 50 cents in January 2015, and again six months later. The final $1.10 increase would occur in January 2016 and automatically rise in the future with inflation.
The minimum wage for tipped employees is currently $2.65. That would increase 85 cents each year, starting in January 2015, until it reaches the minimum wage for other workers.
Critics say raising the minimum wage would hurt the economy.
"Given that Michigan currently has an 8.4 percent unemployment rate, we believe government and voters should be focused on policies to help workers get jobs, not actively increasing the cost of hiring workers and creating barriers to entry," said Jim Holcomb, senior vice president of business advocacy and general counsel for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who is up for re-election, has said increasing the wage could have negative consequences.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer, who like other Democrats is making income inequality a top issue, has proposed increasing the hourly minimum to $9.25 over three years. He says it would aid the consumer-driven economy by putting more money in employees' pockets and give low-wage workers the same buying power as 1968, when the wage had its highest purchasing power.