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A roundup of recent Michigan newspaper editorials

June 11, 2018

The Detroit News. June 6, 2018

One Fair Wage isn’t fair to staff

One Fair Wage, a proposal to incrementally raise the minimum wage to $12 by 2022, could appear on the general election ballot in November. While it boasts a hopeful sounding name, the proposal’s implications put at risk the livelihoods restaurant workers.

Michigan One Fair Wage, the committee supporting the measure, submitted its petitions on May 21, and if enough signatures are validated, the proposal will appear on the fall ballot.

The proposal is being passed off as a simple minimum wage increase, something Michigan is used to seeing. Yet there is one aspect that voters likely won’t hear much about, but should. The proposal seeks to raise the minimum wage rate for tipped employees until it matches the full minimum wage.

On the surface, this may seem fair. However, there would be several negative consequences.

Michigan’s restaurants industry would be forced to raise prices, a cost that certainly would be passed on to customers. Some would likely have to go out of business, since restaurants operate on thin profit margins.

But the bigger impact would be on the restaurant workers themselves. Currently, tipped employees are guaranteed to make at least the full minimum wage, when the base tipped wage of $3.52 an hour is combined with tips from customers. If the combination doesn’t add up to the current $9.25 an hour minimum wage, the employer must make up the difference.

The One Fair Wage proposal would do away with this system. Instead of a tipped minimum wage, employers would be forced to pay incrementally higher wages to wait staff and bartenders, eventually paying them the full $12 an hour minimum wage by 2024.

The Restaurant Opportunities Center, a major financial supporter of Michigan One Fair Wage, argues that while tips are meant to be a reward for good service, customers often tip the same amount to every server.

But sharing payroll costs for servers with the customers keeps costs down for the restaurant operators, and may drive them to find alternatives to employing a full wait staff, including automation. Some restaurants already have opted for tabletop ordering devices or having customers order at the counter, says Michael Saltsman, managing director of the Employment Policy Institute

Justin Winslow, president and CEO of the Michigan Restaurant Association, says it is rare to find a tipped server who does not make at least the minimum wage. Quite often, servers make far beyond the $9.25 minimum, he says.

But higher prices and knowledge that the servers are being paid a full wage may discourage customers from leaving the standard tip.

That’s why many of them are speaking against the One Fair Wage proposal. Groups such as the Restaurant Workers Association are fighting against the elimination of the tipped credit. Their members gathered this past month at Lansing Brewing Company to protest the proposal.

Maine passed One Fair Wage in November 2016. That state’s tipped servers began protesting the new pay structure just eight months later, when they realized it was not delivering the promised benefits.

Michigan should look to how the Fair Wage proposal played out in other states, and listen to the concerns of wait staff who have benefited from a framework that encourages tipping for good service.


Times Herald (Port Huron). June 7, 2018

Give bigger during The Big Give

The Big Give is coming June 12.

More than 80 Blue Water Area nonprofits are working with the Community Foundation of St. Clair County to inspire a 24-hour celebration of contributing to worthy local causes. Similar day-long efforts in 2009, 2010 and 2104 raised more than $1.1 million for local nonprofits.

Participating agencies — there are too many to list here — range from Paws for a Cause Feral Cat Rescue and the Port Huron & Detroit Railroad Historical Society to Port Huron Parks and Recreation and St. Clair County Bar Mock Trial.

The groups are working to improve animal welfare in our community, boost arts and culture, community development, youth and education, faith-based, provide health and human services, and help senior citizens. For the complete list of participants, go to thebiggivescc.com.

From midnight to midnight June 12, those agencies are hoping their supporters will go to the thebiggivescc.com website and support their efforts with monetary contributions. The Community Foundation’s website will make donating easy.

Please check out the list of participating agencies and their programs. Identify the ones whose missions match your passions and consider making a donation. All are worthy causes working to make this a better place to live for all of us.

Changing the world and improving your community should be reason enough on any day of the year to extend your financial support to the groups that reflect your values and goals. But there is a special reason to do it during The Big Give.

Donate your money on June 12 and you not only give away your money, you give away other people’s money as well. It makes your contribution more valuable and increases the good that your dollars can do in our community. You give more during The Big Give and it doesn’t cost you any extra.

A bonus pool of contributions has been donated to make those from the community. After The Big Give is over, the bonus pool will be divided among the groups according to how much they received during the 24-hour giving period. The agencies that inspire the greatest amount of donations will get the largest share of the bonus pool.

There will be at least $27,000 in the pool. It comes from the James C. Acheson Fund, Norman and Isabel Cosgrove Memorial Endowment Fund, Nasr Family Fund, Northstar Bank, Eastern Michigan Bank, Bill and Linda Forster, Youth Advisory Council, SEMCO, the Women’s Initiative, David and Denise Brooks, Fifth Third Bank, United Way of St. Clair County, Catherine Houghton, St. Clair Funds, Blue Water Arts Council and an anonymous donor.

Take their money. Put it to use.


Traverse City Record-Eagle. June 3, 2018

Graduates’ future bright, finances aren’t.

Hundreds of newly minted graduates will wear wide grins as they stride out of high school and onto the path they hope will lead to the good life.

Many will set their sights high and achieve great things.

And like generations before, nearly all of today’s graduates face pressure to quickly jump into a summer job — or three — to start paying their own way.

Unfortunately, that trail to success and prosperity isn’t as well worn as it once was — pitfalls and snags abound.

There is no doubt the young people donning caps and gowns today are better prepared for life ahead than many generations before. Think about it, these teens were raised in the midst of an unprecedented technological evolution. They were nine or 10 years old when the iPhone launched and have lived in a world where handheld supercomputers are commonplace, a world more interconnected than ever before.

They also have no memory of a day when their nation wasn’t at war, or a time when terrorist attacks and mass shootings were fodder for nightmares, not headlines.

But probably the most difficult hurdle the class of 2018 will overcome isn’t the most obvious.

Many teens who spent the past two years pondering their post-graduation plans spent more time confronting dilemmas of financial planning, not career choice.

Most preceding generations — save those parents who support college students — can’t fathom the financial roadblocks ahead for today’s graduates. The cost of post-secondary education has skyrocketed, even at budget-friendly state universities, as state budget builders have balanced deficits by shifting college costs from state coffers to students.

There certainly are a number of reasonable options for students who want to avoid some costs, like early college programs at Traverse City Area Public Schools and associate degree programs at Northwestern Michigan College. But those options don’t reach nearly enough students.

Consider this: per-credit tuition costs have spiked 397 percent in the past 18 years at Central Michigan University, previously one of the most affordable state universities.

That rise means students who can’t secure major scholarships or grants will need to scrape together nearly $100,000 to pay for a four year degree. And many working-class families simply can’t shoulder that burden.

The Economist estimated that in 2014 there was more than $1.2 trillion in outstanding student loan debt with more than 7 million of those borrowers in default. Subsequent tallies estimated the total debt at more than $1.3 trillion with 44 million borrowers owing an average of $37,000 in student loan debt.

Many young adults aiming for a bright future will dig a massive financial hole before they earn that first career paycheck. They face the equivalent of a mortgage payment within six months of college commencement. Those costs will dip into decades worth of future paychecks.

The days of leisurely summers spent on the beach before college are long gone.

Instead our recent graduates are destined for a summer filled with a job, or two, or three simply to afford a down payment toward their future prosperity.


The Mining Journal (Marquette). June 8, 2018

Many who work in Downtown Marquette still expect to see Phil Niemisto hard at work, cleaning windows or toiling with flowers and other plants in the lovely little park downtown. His passing earlier this year still hasn’t registered for some.

But Phil’s memory and work live on, especially in the Phil Niemisto Pocket Park along West Washington Street downtown. The park is receiving a cleanup, the detritus of the Upper Peninsula winter being swept up and removed.

“There was a lot of damage because of the winter we had. I’m sure people are seeing the same thing in their yards,” said Mona Lang, executive director of the Marquette Downtown Development Authority who advised people not to panic if they see the park is not in its normal, well-tended shape.

“People are going to see stuff being pulled out that’s overgrown,” Lang said.

And some new vegetation will be added.

Volunteers are putting in plants, with 300 geraniums and 150 petunias ordered. As is the cycle of nature, the park’s tulips were pulled up Tuesday night, but the bulbs will be regenerated and replanted for the 2019 growing season

In a Thursday Mining Journal story by Staff Writer Christie Bleck, Lang said Erica and Andy Smith are taking over the maintenance of the park, which had been tended by Niemisto until his death in February. The Gathered Earth, a shop across from the park, belongs to the Smiths.

This couple seems the perfect pair to step up: one of Gathered Earth’s specialties is home and garden decor and Andy Smith is grounds supervisor at Northern Michigan University.

In Thursday’s story, Erica Smith said they’re trying to be sensitive about the pocket park.

“We don’t want people to think that since Phil is no longer here, things will be changed,” she said.

But some alterations have been necessary.

“Because of that, it’s going to change the look of that space,” she said. New plants are being brought in and Andy Smith’s background in landscape design will be an asset for the park.

There is a list of volunteers who have stepped forward to help maintain this pocket park.

“People are very eager to help,” said Erica Smith, who noted the new plants still need to be watered regularly.

We thank those who are helping to carry on with Phil’s work in his beloved park, where a memorial statue and plaque honoring him can be found.

We believe Phil would be pleased, indeed.


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