- Associated Press - Sunday, February 19, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - As House Republicans push for a bill that would prevent local governments from determining minimum hourly wages, workers in some Iowa counties are expressing bewilderment over the potential loss of raises that have improved their lives.

Minimum wage increases have been implemented in Johnson, Linn and Wapello counties, with additional raises scheduled. In Polk, the county with the state’s largest population, a phased-in increase is scheduled to start in April. Legislation likely up for a House vote this week would stop Iowa’s cities and counties from increasing the minimum wage above the state’s $7.25 standard and would override laws already approved.

For Cedar Rapids resident Effie McCollom, who works at the seniors organization AARP, the raise was “a little light at the end of the tunnel.” The Linn County minimum wage climbed to $8.25 in January and was set to rise annually until reaching $10.25 in 2019.

“I would lay up and worry at night. Do I pay my rent or do I buy food? Do I pay my light bill or do I pay my gas bill?” said McCollom, who also cares for a granddaughter. “This bill would impact my life a whole lot. Not only mine, but everyone else making minimum wage with a family and children.”

Republicans who support a statewide wage have noted employers could opt to retain the higher pay, but McCollom said she’s been told her wage will likely drop to $7.25 if the Legislature approves the bill.

Johnson County now has the state’s highest minimum wage at $10.10 an hour, and day care worker Ghada Janeel, 29, said it has made a difference in her life.

Janeel, an Iowa City resident who works while attending Kirkwood Community College, said she used her extra pay to buy a computer so she could do homework without traveling to the library each night.

“When I had $7.25, I never dreamed of buying a computer,” she said. “But I was saving, and when I got $10.10, I got a computer, finally. But now, I may need to sell the computer to make ends meet.”

Justin LeDuc, 28, said the pay raise has enabled him to put aside a little money from his job working nights at a disability care center in Iowa City. The savings will be helpful next year when he returns to the University of Iowa to seek a master’s degree in social work, he said.

“It gave me the opportunity to save,” LeDuc said. “A lot of people who work minimum wage jobs don’t have that opportunity when it’s $7.25 because they live paycheck to paycheck.”

Gov. Terry Branstad last week supported “a modest increase” to the state minimum wage, but House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said earlier this month in a taping of the public television show Iowa Press that Republicans were focused on a single statewide minimum aren’t were not interested in raising the wage.

“I don’t hear members wanting to change the minimum wage,” said Upmeyer, of Clear Lake. “I think what we need to keep in mind is that businesses can pay, employers can pay, anyone can pay more than what is minimum wage.”

Rep. Jake Highfill, a Johnston Republican who introduced the legislation, did not return calls or emails about the bill.

Officials in Polk County estimate 25,000 workers would benefit from the county’s wage increase to $10.75 by 2019. In Linn County, officials said 14,000 low-wage workers would benefit.

Misty Rebik, co-founder of the Iowa City-based Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, said she saw middle-aged employees who had worked for several years at fast food restaurants receive their first pay raises after the county decisions. For some low-income parents, she said, it meant no longer deciding between buying diapers or food for their children.

“It was an incredible difference for them in their lives,” said Rebik, whose group advocates for worker rights and affordable housing. “You had working class parents working two minimum wage jobs and just barely scraping by and still having to choose which bill they weren’t going to pay that month. That is the reality for workers.”

The cost of living varies across Iowa, Rebik said, making it vital that local governments can respond to their community’s needs.

Karen Kubby, the co-owner of an Iowa City bead supply and jewelry repair shop Beadology Iowa, said she was initially worried about the wage increase but found the change was “actually fairly inconsequential.” Whatever happens, she doesn’t plan to return to the lower wage but thinks some businesses would cut worker pay.

“In the business world, the bottom line reigns,” she said.

McCollom said she hopes legislators will try to understand what the pay cut would mean to her and others.

“I hope they think really hard about that decision because it would really, really impact a lot of lives, especially the kids,” McCollom said. “Parents are doing the best they can to provide for them, but you can’t provide on $7.25 an hour. It’s impossible.”

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide