Ac­tresses turn ad­vo­cates for higher Mich. wages

Lily Tom­lin, Jane Fonda draw­ing au­di­ences as they take up work­ers’ cause

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY STEPHANIE STEIN­BERG The Detroit News sstein­berg@de­troit­news.com (313) 222-2156 Twit­ter: @Steph_Stein­berg The As­so­ci­ated Press con­trib­uted.

Detroit — Ac­tress and na­tive Detroi­ter Lily Tom­lin knows what it’s like to be an un­der­paid, un­der-ap­pre­ci­ated wait­ress.

“The only time I ever got a 20 per­cent tip was when a cus­tomer dropped a glass of wa­ter on my big toe and broke it,” Tom­lin said. “... In a mo­ment of ex­treme vul­ner­a­bil­ity, I even thanked him for the big tip. He ac­tu­ally had the nerve to say, ‘You’re wel­come.’”

At the time, Tom­lin’s hus­band was in­jured and un­able to work, which made her the bread­win­ner.

“It fell to me to pay the bills,” Tom­lin said, “but it’s hard to pay the bills when you don’t make a liv­ing wage.”

Tom­lin was joined by ac­tress Jane Fonda on Thurs­day af­ter­noon to ad­vo­cate for rais­ing the min­i­mum wage to what Tom­lin calls “a liv­ing wage.”

The Restau­rant Op­por­tu­ni­ties Cen­ters United or­ga­nized the pub­lic event at Wayne State Univer­sity to raise aware­ness about a pos­si­ble One Fair Wage bal­lot pro­posal ef­fort an­nounced last week that would raise Michi­gan’s min­i­mum wage from $8.90 to $12 an hour by 2022 and, over an eight-year pe­riod, phase out the cur­rent $3.38 an hour wage for tipped work­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to ROC, a na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion with more than 25,000 restau­rant work­ers, the restau­rant in­dus­try em­ploys the largest per­cent­age of min­i­mum wage work­ers and 75 per­cent of tipped work­ers in Michi­gan. Of the 400,000 Michi­gan work­ers earn­ing the $3 wage, over twothirds are women who earn a me­dian wage of $9 an hour with tips.

Speak­ing to a lec­ture hall packed with a di­verse au­di­ence of all ages, Fonda and Tom­lin used a comedic tone while shar­ing per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ences, but turned se­ri­ous when dis­cussing how women, es­pe­cially, suf­fer from un­equal pay in the restau­rant in­dus­try.

“This is not just an eco­nomic is­sue. This is a gen­der is­sue,” stressed Fonda, adding that 80 per­cent of restau­rant work­ers are women.

“Seventy per­cent of tipped work­ers who earn that measly $3.38 an hour are women,” Tom­lin pointed out. “We are wait­resses all over the coun­try work­ing at busy Coney Is­land din­ers, Denny’s, Olive Gar­dens, IHOPs. And re­mem­ber, it’s not IHOPE.”

Fonda, 79, and Tom­lin, 78, ad­dressed the topic at Kala­ma­zoo Col­lege on Tues- day and will stop at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan’s Power Cen­ter for the Per­form­ing Arts on Fri­day.

While they’re not Michi­gan res­i­dents, the two co-stars in the Net­flix com­edy se­ries “Grace and Frankie” are no strangers to the Great Lakes State.

Tom­lin grew up in Detroit and at­tended Cass Tech High School and Wayne State.

Fonda was mar­ried to the late Tom Hay­den, an ac­tivist from Royal Oak who at­tended the Univer­sity of Michi­gan.

Tom­lin, who re­ceived the Life Achieve­ment Award the Screen Ac­tors Guild Awards this year, also spoke at the fourth an­nual Detroit Home­com­ing event Wed­nes­day and re­ceived a key to the city from Mayor Mike Dug­gan.

On Thurs­day, Tom­lin wasn’t shy about call­ing out Michi­gan’s wage laws.

“Since the first min­i­mum wage law passed in 1938, the wages of restau­rant work­ers have gone from $0 per hour to $2.13 on the fed­eral level to $3.38 here in Michi­gan,” she said. “A $3 raise in over 80 years. Whoop de doo. And no, this is not fake news.”

In Jan­uary, Michi­gan's hourly min­i­mum wage will rise for the fourth-straight year to $9.25 as a re­sult of a law Gov. Rick Sny­der ap­proved in 2014. Un­der the One Fair Wage pro­posal, the wage would rise to $10 in 2019, $10.65 in 2020, $11.35 in 2021 and $12 in 2022.

The min­i­mum wage for tipped work­ers rises to $3.52 next year. Un­der the pro­posal, it would grad­u­ally in­crease to reach the min­i­mum wage for all other work­ers in 2024.

ROC United co-founder Saru Ja­yara­man also spoke at Thurs­day’s event, where she asked the au­di­ence to raise their hands if they’ve ever worked in the restau­rant in­dus­try.

Nearly ev­ery­one shot up their arms, un­der­scor­ing her point that 1 in 2 Amer­i­cans has worked in the in­dus­try at some point in their lives. Na­tion­wide, she said the restau­rant in­dus­try en­com­passes 12 mil­lion work­ers.

“This is the largest grow­ing sec­tor of our econ­omy, and it is the ab­so­lute low­est­pay­ing sec­tor in the United States, and what does it mean to have the largest and fastest in­dus­try grow­ing the low­est-pay­ing jobs?” she asked. “...What is go­ing to hap­pen to our in­dus­try when half of the na­tion can’t af­ford to eat out?”

Ja­yara­man is ad­vo­cat­ing for the One Fair Wage pro­posal, but not ev­ery­one is sup­port­ive of the ini­tia­tive.

Justin Winslow, pres­i­dent and CEO of the Michi­gan Restau­rant As­so­ci­a­tion, has said the pro­posal would kill jobs and is "ir­re­spon­si­ble and dan­ger­ously out of touch.”

Wendy Block of the Michi­gan Cham­ber of Com­merce told The Detroit News last week that the la­bor costs would have to be made up “some­where.”

“Whether it’s rais­ing the prices on goods and ser­vices or mak­ing cuts else­where, the costs are real,” Block said.

Some Michi­gan res­i­dents be­lieve the min­i­mum wage should be much more. Re­tired West Bloom­field Pub­lic Schools teacher Mary Pow­ers, 68, said she thinks the min­i­mum wage should be at least $20 and at­tended the talk Thurs­day.

“It im­proves the econ­omy be­cause peo­ple can af­ford a bet­ter qual­ity of life and are able to spend and pur­chase, and that’s how the econ­omy grows — through peo­ple spend­ing money, not by peo­ple at the top mak­ing more money,” Pow­ers said.

Pho­tos by Todd McIn­turf / The Detroit News

Celebri­ties Lily Tom­lin, left, and Jane Fonda say women make up the ma­jor­ity of min­i­mum wage work­ers and the ma­jor­ity of restau­rant work­ers, whose pay is set lower than the min­i­mum wage. They are push­ing for higher wages dur­ing ap­pear­ances in Michi­gan.

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