DETROIT — Detroit’s own Lily Tomlin and fellow actress Jane Fonda are rallying to fight for an increase in the state’s minimum wage to $12 per hour. The stars from the 1980 film “9 to 5” and the new Netflix series “Grace and Frankie” spoke before a crowd of 150 at Wayne State University on Thursday afternoon.
Currently, Michigan’s minimum wage stands at $8.90 per hour. However, workers who are tipped receive about $3.50 per hour. Employees at these bottom wage levels are considered to be living in poverty. The federal poverty level for one person is an income less than $12,060.
Tomlin grew up in Detroit, graduated from Cass Technical High School and later studied at Wayne State University. She worked at several restaurants when she was starting out in her career. One of her first jobs was a waitress at a Howard Johnson’s in New York.
“I’d like to see that happen for everybody, to get a living wage,” she told the crowd. “I know what it is to work paycheck to paycheck, week to week and not have any cushion. I got into food service when I was a candy girl at the Avalon Theatre on Linwood. Last night at the Homecoming, I met the grandson of the Wetson’s, who owned that theatre. I tried to challenge him on the 50 cents per hour he used to pay us. But he had no recollection.
“I worked as a traygirl at Highland Park General Hospital. That’s when people pass out the food trays to people who are sick. We had to do the dishes at the end of each meal. I was shameful because I had so much fun waiting and doing food service. At the end of doing the dishes, I’d have a big bundle of towels and I’d roll them up and carry it down the hall like it was a little baby.”
The Restaurant Opportunities Center, better known as ROC United, is hoping to get the $12 minimum wage increase proposal on the 2018 midterm election ballot. The organization needs 350,000 signatures to do so.
“Work is more than pennies and dimes…it’s your livelihood,” Fonda told the crowd. “We need to be compassionate to people across the board otherwise we’re not going to win the way we need to win. She [Lily] grew up paycheck to paycheck with her parents. I grew up in privilege. Everyone has to feel respected in the way they live and how they’re paid. This is something that affects all of us.
“How can we become a city where poor people don’t have their water cut off? Just because the population is black their water is poisoned. The systemic change we need is deep. We are globally facing an extensible crisis. There has been a big wake up call. Let’s not let it disappear. We can do it when people work together.”
For those who make a $10,000 donation to the cause, you will receive a private lunch with Jane and Lily. Those who donate $30,000 will get a tour of the “Grace and Frankie” set along with the private lunch.
“I thought it was amazing,” said attendee Heidi Aprahamian from Northville, Mich. “At almost 50, I grew up watching both Lily and Fonda and a lot of the causes they champion. They’re an inspiration to be women in their 70’s and traveling across the country being activists. They could easily be sitting in Hollywood in retirement. We should definitely raise the minimum wage. I think $12 is reasonable.”
Another attendee, Brian Maddaford from Farmington Hills, Mich., added: “I know a lot of friends who have worked in the restaurant industry as waiters and waitresses. It’s a good idea. They should raise it. I think $12 is a good number.”
For more information about the ROC United campaign for $12 per hour, visit http://rocunited.org/2017/09/jane-fonda-lily-tomlin-kick-off-one-fair-wage-campaign-michigan/