Solon City Council unanimously passed an ordinance to opt out of the first-in-the-midwest minimum wage increase last night. Instead of allowing the lowest paid in their town a moderate raise, the council decided to keep their city’s wage floor at the state minimum, opposing the Johnson County ordinance passed last week that will raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour by 2017.
Two restaurant owners challenged the council and said that they already had surpassed the county’s pay rate, set to go to $10.10 in 2017, with a $.95 raise to take effect in November, the first of several hikes to gradually raise pay for the lowest paid workers in the area.
The council listened to dozens of county wage supporters and a few who supported the Solon council’s pay freeze.
Solon resident Kevin Samek said he last was paid a minimum wage over forty years ago and called minimum wage raise an “Iowa City issue.”
“Those jobs were not created to be full-time position and to support a household. They were started for high school kids to get some gas money and those types of things,” he said, “The folks that work in the restaurants and convenience store, they know what the pay was when they took the job.”
About 50 people crowded into the Solon city council meeting to express their support for the county’s measure. Quad City Federation of Labor President Dino Leone, who traveled from Davenport to speak out about the issue, openly disagreed with Samek.
“The average minimum wage worker is about 35 years old. That is not a child,” Leone said. “At 35, they’re probably trying to raise kids. Why do businesses profit? Is it because of the business owner? Or is it because you got a good work force? It’s because of the workers.” Even the term “minimum wage” was inaccurate he said. “It’s really a poverty wage.”
County Supervisor Mike Carberry said, “People who live in Solon and throughout the county are struggling to survive on $7.25 [an hour]. Raising the wage will put more money into the local economy and will be a win-win situation for both employees and employers.”
Supervisor Rod Sullivan agreed with Carberry, “There are poor people throughout our county. Solon has a food bank; there are kids on free and reduced lunch in the schools. Why deny these folks the opportunity to earn a bit more money?”
He added, “Having some of the city’s poorest residents have a few extra bucks in their pockets would help local businesses.”
Though no Solon City Councilors responded to a request for comment on the issue during the meeting, one councilor has previously expressed support for a state-wide raise. Of the six states that border Iowa, five have bumped the wage floor, only Wisconsin has kept the minimum wage at the federal level of $7.25 per hour.
About 10 percent of all Iowans would benefit from a raise to $10.10. The first minimum wage boost will take effect in November for all of Johnson County workers, except those in Solon.
A blog post by Mike Owen, the executive director of the Iowa Policy Project, debunks many of the Solon councilors claims about who earns minimum wage and what effect it would have on the local economy.
The Iowa Policy Project released a study in advance of the county’s ordinance that stated that many workers who make above the minimum would also benefit because their wages would also rise to keep up with the increase.
Others commentators take the county to task for not being aggressive enough in the wage raise. In an opinion piece in the Iowa City Press-Citizen, one writer believes the county didn’t go far enough to combat income inequality. After January 2017, the county wage will be set in accord with the consumer price index (CPI).
Swisher City Council is also considering the move to keep wages low in their town and will vote on the issue at their Oct. 12 meeting.