Thursday, July 23, 2015

Raise The Wage On Board, Election Agenda

Working on Community ID this week, I've seen a lot of paychecks (because that's an accepted proof of address). And a lot of them have been really, really small.

And the people who've been bringing in those paychecks aren't in their teens or early 20s. They're in their 30s and 40s and bringing their kids along.

It's something the Johnson County Supervisors see, too, and they're taking a first in the state step to phase in, over three steps, a local minimum wage of $10.10 an hour by 2017. Three dozen supporters of the effort, many from the Center for Worker Justice and from organized labor (that would include me) rallied on the county campus this afternoon.

"Honk For Higher Wages," read the signs, and the last time I heard that many beep beeps, I saw Wile E. Coyote chasing after. (As seen here.) Occasionally, speakers were drowned out by honking horns.

"The federal government and state government refuse to act, so we need to act locally," said Iowa City Federation of Labor president Jesse Case. And the votes are there, so after a round of hearings and votes, the supervisors are expected to pass the wage ordinance.

That's where it gets interesting.

According to Case, the county ordinance would be binding county wide, including within cities. In order to opt out, cities would have to actively vote to lower an already enacted local minimum wage. And the timing of that vote would land right at the time of this fall's city elections.

Iowa City council member Jim Throgmorton, who is up for re-election this year, was at the rally to support the effort.

State Rep. Mary Mascher, who supported an effort to raise the state minimum wage which failed in the Republican controlled House, said city councils would be under a lot of pressure to oppose the local wage increase, and the public needs to pressure councils to instead support it.

"There will be a lot of fear mongering," said Supervisor Rod Sullivan. "Don't believe it. People who make more money spend more money." 

Mascher, a retired teacher, also said 40% of Iowa public school children are on free or reduced lunch because of the low wage economy. And workers, in Spanish and English, told tales of multiple jobs and bill juggling and payday loans and plasma donations.

Supervisor Terrence Neuzil noted the irony of the rally happening just outside the county Health and Human Services Building. "It would be nice if fewer people used these services - because they could afford not to."

Case and other organizers said they would prefer an increase to a living wage, but support the county's effort as a positive step.

"$15 an hour is a livable wage," said Supervisor Mike Carberry, "but we have to go through $10.10 to get there."

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