Illustration by Josh Carroll
The Iowa state senate voted Monday to approve House File 295, a bill that takes authority from counties and cities and gives it to the state in several areas, including setting a minimum wage.
If Governor Terry Branstad signs this bill into law as expected, it will lower the minimum wage in Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello counties to $7.25 — as well as Lee County, which voted today to raise the wage by $0.95.
“I don’t think any of the Johnson County Supervisors are happy about it. It’s a devastating loss of local control. Minimum wage has not been increased since 2008,” Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry said. “Nobody can survive on $7.25.”
According to the Iowa Policy Project’s study on the cost of living in Iowa, even childless young couples and single people working full time require well above $7.25 to meet their basic needs without relying on government assistance. For a single parent with two children, the number jumps to $26 per hour. Affordable Care Act subsidies help these numbers somewhat, but they are still well above $7.25.
According to the report, two Iowa parents working full time with two children and ACA subsidies both have to make over $15 per hour to meet their family’s basic needs — which is enough as long as those parents never take days off, can schedule work for the times when their kids are in school, eat every meal at the cost of the USDA Low-Cost Family Food Plan, use home-based childcare and make no purchases except necessary household items, clothing, rent, transportation, utilities and telephone service.
Source: The Cost of Living in Iowa 2014, The Iowa Policy Project
“There were a number of people who had really benefited statewide from those increases in the minimum wage. So I’m really sad for those families,” Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said. “In terms of good governance, I think it’s just really wrong for the state to take away local control in all these areas.”
All Republican senators voted in favor of HF 295 and all Democrats opposed it, plus the state senate’s lone independent, Sen. David Johnson (Ocheyedan). Branstad has said he’d like to see a statewide wage increase, but no legislation has been introduced to raise it.
“We would rather have the federal government raise the minimum wage, or the state do it, to a wage that resembles a living wage,” Johnson County Supervisor Mike Carberry said. “If it’s not the federal government or the state government that’s gonna do it, we felt that basically it’s incumbent upon us as Johnson County Supervisors to do what we did, and I still stand behind that and we’re still willing to fight for that increase.”
Johnson County Supervisors listen to public comment in 2015 before voting unanimously to pass a minimum wage. — photo by Adam Burke
Carberry and Sullivan said the county may consider legal action to preserve the wage increase. They also said workers whose wages are impacted by this bill could potentially file a class-action lawsuit.
Sullivan said a class-action suit might be asking a lot of low-wage workers. “When you’re working a couple jobs and making eight bucks an hour and trying to take care of all the things that life throws at you, it’s hard to have another thing, ‘Oh yeah, let’s do this lawsuit too.'”
Carberry said that with the highest cost of living in the state, Johnson County should be able to raise wages to match. He encourages Iowans who oppose HF 295 to contact Gov. Branstad as soon as possible and urge him not to sign the bill. Sullivan said he plans to focus on the next election cycle, and elect legislators who will reverse this decision.
“I’m just gonna hope that the future is a little more friendly toward low income folks. We’re living in a world right now where it’s hard to be poor. There are a lot of factors that wanna keep you poor and make sure that you stay poor, and it’s not easy,” Sullivan said. “Some day things will come around and we’ll get an opportunity to take back the legislature and hopefully we can do something about it.”
“We’re hoping that the market will continue to hold strong and that those workers won’t get a decrease back to $7.25,” Carberry said.
The Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa is interviewing Johnson County business owners, asking them to commit to keeping wages at the current county minimum of $10.10. If you are an employer that wants to be included in this list, contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to support businesses that are willing to continue paying the current county minimum wage, check the Center for Worker Justice’s Facebook page, where a list will soon be available.
“As consumers you can always use your buying power to reward businesses that do pay employees well,” Sullivan said.