News Story

Detroit Council Calls For $15 Minimum Wage; Many City Workers Get Less

Statement ‘strongly encourages downtown developers’ to pay a living wage

While the Detroit City Council recently voted unanimously to pass a resolution supporting a $15 per hour minimum wage, many city jobs pay less. Janitors, lifeguards, secretaries and others earn in the $9-$12 per hour range, and internship positions are unpaid.

The council's resolution was passed on June 19 and supports a local union’s call for a minimum wage hike for janitorial and security workers employed by private firms in the city’s downtown. More than a month after passing the resolution calling on employers to pay at least $15 an hour, the city government is still posting jobs paying less than that.

The union behind the local minimum wage campaign is the SEIU, which a week earlier organized a rally that was attended by Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones.

The resolution reads in part, “The Detroit City Council strongly encourages downtown developers to voluntarily commit paying their employees a living wage, particularly their respective janitorial and security general staffs, for projects requiring significant public investment.”

The union’s campaign and city council’s resolution are purely symbolic because state law prevents local governments from imposing a minimum wage on private employers. (There are exceptions for work done under a contract with a local unit of government.)

Members of the Detroit Council could vote to raise the pay of all city employees to at least the proposed $15 level. But a month after the council passed the resolution, the city was still advertising numerous positions that begin at a wage of less than $15 an hour.

The list of jobs starting at less than $15 an hour includes a lifeguard position at a municipal swimming pool ($12.70-an-hour), an elections clerical assistant ($9.93 to $10.57 an hour) and a transportation equipment operator ($12.69 to $18.29 an hour). Seasonal jobs within the city’s recreation department start at $9.63 an hour.

Detroit City Councilmember Mary Sheffield said the City Council cannot unilaterally change the wages of city employees, but had requested a study on increasing the wages of all city employees.

“I'm confident that once the information is presented, City Council will once again speak through resolution and request that the Administration increase the pay for all City employees to $15 per hour,” Sheffield said.

Sheffield also pushed aside a question about the city’s unpaid internships, saying that “interns are not employees” and “should not be a part of the discussion.” The city offered an unpaid internship with the police department for this summer.

Wendy Block, a lobbyist for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, said that instead of backing symbolic and meaningless resolutions, the council should focus on policies to help people get jobs.

“At a time when unemployment is low and the labor market is tight, employers are scrambling to do everything they can do to attract and retain quality workers. That includes paying their employees a fair and competitive wage,” Block said in an email. “However, raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour would equate to a 62 percent increase from the minimum wage today. Make no mistake: Many employers simply cannot absorb an increase of this size and type on the balance sheet.”

Asked if Mayor Mike Duggan's office would support a $15 minimum wage for the city's employees, Detroit corporation counsel Lawrence Garcia said in an email statement that "the State of Michigan has set a minimum wage for workers in Michigan through MCL 408.414. This law prevents the City from creating an ordinance on minimum wage."

Editor's note: Comment from Detroit's corporate counsel added after the article was originally published.