Local Government

Johnson County prepares for minimum wage pre-emption

Local activist urges businesses to continue $10.10 rate

Mazahir Salih, community organizer, holds a sign supporting a minimum wage of $10.10 as she talks with businesses in Iowa City on Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Mazahir Salih, community organizer, holds a sign supporting a minimum wage of $10.10 as she talks with businesses in Iowa City on Wednesday, Mar. 29, 2017. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — With Iowa’s local minimum wage ordinances likely on the verge of being abolished by state lawmakers, Mazahir Salih hopes business owners carry on with Johnson County’s $10.10 per-hour rate.

Meanwhile, some business owners — who may adjust wages if the state pre-empts local ordinances — say they’re concerned about potential pushback. That comes especially after one county supervisor’s comments on social media encouraging people not to frequent businesses that don’t stick with $10.10 an hour.

Salih, president of the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, recently began meeting with downtown Iowa City business owners to encourage them to stick with any wage increases established by the county’s minimum wage ordinance, which first passed in 2015.

“We hope they continue to pay the Johnson County minimum wage, that’s our hope right now. We don’t have another choice,” Salih said. “We believe that those in Des Moines, they are not the residents of Johnson County.”

Earlier this week, Salih began asking business owners not only to keep current wages above $10.10 an hour, but also to pledge to hire all future employees at that rate or higher — essentially acting as if the county’s ordinance still were in effect.

Those who agree are given a poster that states they support the county’s ordinance.

That ordinance will be abolished if Gov. Terry Branstad signs House File 295, which rolls back higher minimum wage thresholds approved in at least five counties including Johnson and Linn. The bill pre-empts counties from passing higher minimum wage ordinances in the future and reaffirms $7.25 an hour as the state minimum wage.

Sen. Tony Bisignano, D-Des Moines, last week said he suspected majority Republicans were pressing ahead with the pre-emption bill to beat Polk County’s April 1 implementation date in boosting the minimum wage there to $8.75 an hour.


But some area business owners said they don’t plan to cut raises that were forced by local wage increases.

So far, Salih said she has heard from 15 businesses who intend to keep wages above $10.10 per hour.

“I just really appreciate the businesses in the downtown area who say they are going to keep it at $10.10,” she said. “It makes a big difference in (employees’) lives. They are able to buy enough food for their children, they can buy new clothes for them.”

Some business owners have said new employees hired after pre-emption — especially those with less experience — could be hired at wages closer to the minimum rate.

Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan said the end result might reflect a half-victory for the county board that passed the state’s first countywide minimum wage increase more than one year ago.

Minimum wage across Iowa counties (2017)

City councils have the ability to pass counter ordinances, essentially opting out of the county rate. A handful of communities in each county have passed such ordinances.

*Ordinances in Polk and Wapello counties allow employers to pay youth workers -- those under the age of 18 -- 85 percent of the minimum wage.

**Lee County's new wage is set to take effect May 1, 2017.

Source: County documents

“I think the fact that some people are getting higher wages now then they were, and are going to continue to get them, that’s a good thing and I feel good about that,” he said.

But some Corridor business owners have raised concern over Sullivan’s Monday Facebook post that notes an interview Jon Sewell, owner of Iowa City’s D.P. Dough, had last week with Iowa Public Radio. In the post, Sullivan describes the owner as being opposed to the county’s minimum wage increase.

“I’m now on Facebook explaining why I will never, ever eat at DP Dough! Hope you will join me!,” Sullivan said in the post.

The post had received more than 50 comments as of Wednesday.

In the radio interview, Sewell said he does not plan on reducing employee wages if pre-emption occurs, but new hires might start under the $10.10 rate until they are fully trained in a few months.

Sewell on Wednesday told The Gazette he is not opposed to a minimum-wage increase.


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“I believe the state should have taken that occasion to not just rollback the ordinance, but create a new minimum wage. If you’re going to have a minimum wage, it should be higher than $7.25,” Sewell said.

Sewell said he didn’t want to comment on Sullivan’s remarks, but said he has been gratified to see several in the community come to his support following the Monday post.

Sullivan said Tuesday that while he has eaten at D.P. Dough only once, he doesn’t plan to return.

“I think everybody has their own personal ethics that they have to live by, and we all make different buying decisions for different reasons,” he said.

But some, such as Tracy McWane, owner of the Iowa City Dairy Queen at 526 S. Riverside Dr. and the territory operator who oversees the county’s five individually owned Dairy Queen stores, said the supervisor’s comments are concerning.

“It’s intimidating and I feel like it’s a lot of pressure,” she said. “I feel like they’re bullying.”

McWane also said she has no plans of cutting employee wages. But a lower state rate does allow for flexibility with new hires, especially those with no experience.

Gazette Des Moines Bureau reporter Rod Boshart contributed to this story.

l Comments: (319) 339-3175; mitchell.schmidt@thegazette.com



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