On Women's Day, Iowa City protesters declare, 'We're not going back'

Dozens rally against bill to pre-empt county minimum wage increases

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IOWA CITY — Holding signs with slogans like, “We’re moving forward, not one step back,” dozens gathered in downtown Iowa City Wednesday to voice their opposition to Iowa legislation that would lower the minimum wage in Linn and Johnson counties, among other cities.

Organizers of the “We’re Not Going Back” protest marched on the Ped Mall and called on local businesses to pledge to honor the Johnson County minimum wage — regardless of state lawmakers’ decision on House File 295, the proposed bill that would eliminate city and county authority to pass a minimum wage higher than the state’s rate of $7.25.

“We would love if our Johnson County employers or businesses would continue (paying) the Johnson County minimum wage of $10.10,” said Mazahir Salih, president of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa and organizer of the rally.

The rally was held on International Women’s Day as a nod to the largest demographic of minimum wage earners — women, said Salih.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, just more than 38,800 women earned a paid hourly rate at or below the prevailing federal minimum wage. About 38,400 men also earned a minimum wage in 2014.

“As a woman, we should be able to make our own decisions, no one should tell us what we can and cannot do. As women, we have to get out, we have to fight harder. We have ... do more for ourselves,” said Royceann Porter, secretary/treasurer of the Iowa City chapter of the NAACP, who spoke at the event.

Rep. John Landon, R-Ankeny, author of the minimum wage bill making its way through the Iowa Legislature, has said it aims to create “a level playing field” in all Iowa communities by reasserting that the state’s minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. If passed, it would make null and void minimum wage ordinances that already have been passed in a handful of counties, including Linn and Johnson counties.

“This comes because of the patchwork effect that it creates on trying to operate businesses that are multicounty, that are multistate. It makes it difficult to keep track of each and every initiative that is passed that would impact that business as far as wages or other conditions,” Landon said in a March 3 interview with The Gazette.

Johnson County was the first in the state to pass a countywide minimum wage ordinance, which brought the local rate up to $10.10 in January. Future adjustments are possible based on committee recommendations.

Linn County’s minimum wage increased in January to $8.25 an hour, is slated to increase to $9.25 next year and reach $10.25 in 2019.

Wapello County approved an increase to $10.10 in 2019, while Polk County’s minimum wage will reach $10.75 an hour that same year.

“We did not get to this point in one day,” Salih said, referring to the Center for Worker Justice’s efforts to see the Johnson County minimum wage increased. “We really joined the fight for many months and since everything is not moving on the federal level and the state level, we just decided to move it at the county level and we won.

“But just think about it, it’s now going back to step one.”

Speakers at the event also talked about other bills making their way through the Legislature this session, including House Study Bill 133, which would bring sweeping changes to the state’s gun laws and introduce measures like stand your ground.

“It seems like anything they can do to hurt the underrepresented, that’s what they’re doing,” said Porter.

Iowa City’s rally tied into a larger movement nationwide that began with the Women’s March, a post-Inaugural call-to-action in which millions from around the world gathered to protest the policies of President Donald Trump.

Organizers of the Women’s March advocated for “a one-day demonstration of economic solidarity,” called “A Day Without a Woman.” Women were encouraged to take the day off from work, wear red and avoid shopping for the day unless it was at a business owned by a woman or minority, according to the website womensmarch.com.

The impact was felt, according to media reports.

At least two dozen school districts announced plans to close for the day “in anticipation of staff shortages,” Reuters reported.

the Washington Post reported rallies and speeches took place in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday as politicians — including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. — called for more women to run for office.

Salih said the Iowa City event also aimed to honor women who fought for civil rights in the past. In fact, several women participating in Wednesday’s event held signs depicting the likeness of iconic women in history, including Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Rosa Parks.

“We should follow that tradition,” Salih said.

l Comments: (319) 368-8536; michaela.ramm@thegazette.com

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