Michigan high students are fighting a state bill that would let employers pay workers under 20 less than the minimum wage. High School Democrats of America has collected 100 signatures against the proposal by the state's Senate Commerce Committee, according to local media reports.
"I just want to make sure that people know that this is very much an issue for young people," said Logan Arkema, 17, a senior at Byron Center High School outside Grand Rapids and former chair of the Michigan High School Democrats who now serves as development director for High School Democrats of America.
Michigan already allows employers to pay people under 18 either 85 percent of Michigan's minimum wage or the federal minimum wage, whichever is greater. State Sen. Margaret O'Brien, a Republican from Kalamazoo County, is sponsoring Senate Bill 250, which would change the law to include all employees under 20. She said the bill would encourage employers to give jobs to people with little experience.
"We want to get their foot in the door. ... If they can get their foot in the door and get the training and experience they need, then their wage will go up to minimum wage or higher," O'Brien said.
Michigan's current minimum wage is $8.50 per hour. Under the proposal, employers could pay people under 20 the lower federal minimum wage of $7.25. Michigan's minimum wage increased by 35 cents overnight on Jan. 1. Across the state, 3.8 percent of hourly workers earn at or below the minimum wage.
Arkema, who helped start the online petition against the measure, said O'Brien's bill amounts to allowing employers to pay young people less for doing the same tasks as older workers.
"I've got friends who are on the far right of the political spectrum and on the far left and they all, virtually, agree that this is not good for them or any high school students," Arkema said.
The Senate Commerce Committee approved the bill in June. It could come up for a vote by the state Senate later this year.