Johnson County's minimum wage increase, explained

How we got here and which Iowa towns are opting out

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Amid a national debate about raising the minimum wage, Johnson County became the first place in Iowa to raise the wage. The first 95-cent increase of Johnson County’s minimum wage ordinance took effect Nov. 1, 2015.

(Scroll down for a map of the wage in Johnson and Linn counties and a timeline explaining the change)

Supporters of raising the minimum wage argue that $7.25 an hour (the minimum wage both nationally and in Iowa) is not a livable wage and say raising the rate will provide residents with more spending money and ultimately help the local economy.

Opponents say raising the wage could hurt local business owners and argue higher pay should be earned with experience, rather than mandated by the government.

The county rate will increase to $9.25 an hour in May and in 2017 it will reach $10.10. After that, county officials plan to have a committee determine if future increases are needed.

While the ordinance is countywide, municipal governments have the option of essentially opting out of the county rate and sticking with the state/federal rate of $7.25 an hour. Councils in Oxford, Shueyville, Solon and Swisher have declined to follow the county rate. Tiffin’s City Council is debating an ordinance that would apply the county’s minimum wage requirements only to those 16-years-old or older.

Linn County’s Board of Supervisors is beginning preliminary community discussions over the possibility of a minimum wage increase in their county.

Minimum wage status within Linn, Johnson counties


Click on areas of map to see specific ordinance information on increasing the minimum wage beyond the state requirement. Gazette map by John McGlothlen.



January 2008: The last time Iowa’s minimum wage increased, in stages, from $5.15 to the current $7.25.

July 2009: The last time the national minimum wage increased, to the current $7.25.

July 2015: The Johnson County Board of Supervisors explores the possibility of bypassing the state and federal minimum wage – but there are questions over the legality of such a move. The Supervisors plan to move quickly, with a plan that would increase the wage three times, to $10.10, by 2017.

August 2015: Hundreds of residents attend a public input session in Iowa City, most are in favor of raising the wage. In the first of three votes needed to pass the ordinance, the five members of the Johnson County Board of Supervisors unanimously agree to raise the wage.

September 2015: The Johnson County ordinance is officially passed. Solon’s City Council moves quickly to unanimously opt out of the wage increase, citing worries over a “ripple effect” – that a higher minimum wage would lead employees already making more than $10 to ask for increases as well. However, with less than two months until the ordinance would take effect, many of the 11 local governments within the county are pressed for time to take any counter-action.

October 2015: City Councils in Iowa City and North Liberty agree to let the first increase go into effect (by not taking any counter-action), raising the wage from $7.25 to $8.20. A few days earlier, however, the Iowa City’s attorney warned that the county-wide increase might not stand up in a legal challenge. Council members also called for further analysis on the impact such an increase could have on employees, employers and non-profits. Meanwhile, on a first reading, Council members in Swisher vote to join Solon in sticking with the state minimum wage.

November 2015: The first phase of the Johnson County minimum wage increase takes effect on Nov. 1. Johnson County’s largest employer, The University of Iowa, also raises the wage 95 cents, mostly benefiting hundreds of students who were previously earning less than $8.20. As state employees, it was unclear if they would benefit from the County ordinance.

January 2016: Iowa Governor Terry Branstad says he would consider increasing the state’s minimum wage if such a bill passed the legislature, and that his support would depend on the amount of the increase. Last session, the state senate voted to increase the wage to $8.75, but the house did not take up the issue. Meanwhile, the Linn County Board of Supervisors begins exploring an increase, with the mayors of Cedar Rapids and Marion chiming in with support. Back in Johnson County, the Tiffin City Council considers applying the wage increase to adults only – workers under 18 would revert to the state minimum of $7.25, if passed.

February 2016: Linn County discusses creating a working group to explore a countywide wage increase, while Tiffin's City Council remains divided on the issue.

March 2016: Still exploring options for the community of about 2,000, Tiffin's City Council brings a new proposal that would raise the wage in that community to $9 - higher than the state wage but lower than what Johnson County will phase up to. 

May 1, 2016: Johnson County’s wage is set to phase up again, to $9.15. The board of supervisors wrote a guest column explaining the transition. 

January 1, 2017: Johnson County’s wage is set to phase up a third time, to $10.10.

Beyond 2017: The Johnson County Board of Supervisors plans to create a committee to evaluate potential future increases.

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