116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Eastern Iowans celebrate minimum wage increase
CEDAR RAPIDS - Advocates and workers across the state held news conferences over the weekend to celebrate the minimum wage increases taking effect this year in four counties.
News conferences were held Saturday in Johnson and Linn counties, as well as in Polk and Wapello counties, where minimum wages have risen this year. The four counties were the only ones in Iowa to approve minimum wage increases.
Linn County Supervisor James Houser, who was at the Cedar Rapids news conference, said the four counties with wage increases account for a third of Iowa's population.
About 20 people attended the Cedar Rapids event, some holding signs with slogans such as 'People before politics” and 'Living wages are good for Linn County and good for Iowa.”
Sofia Mehaffey, director of health and nutrition at Horizons, said she worked three minimum wage jobs in 2000 while a single mother. Because of that, she relished the chance to celebrate Linn County's increase in the base wage.
'It feels incredible,” Mehaffey said.
The Linn County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance in September to raise the minimum wage to $8.25 effective Jan. 1. On Jan. 1, 2018, it will rise to $9.25 an hour. The third and final increase will raise the wage to $10.25 an hour on Jan. 1, 2019.
The minimum wage ordinance in Johnson County brought the county's rate to $8.20 last year. On May 1, it increased to $9.15, and on Jan. 1, it hit $10.10 an hour.
In September, Wapello County approved an increase to $8.20 an hour as well as annual increases to eventually reach $10.10 an hour by Jan. 1, 2019.
Polk County - the fourth to approve an ordinance - raised the wage to $8.75 beginning in April. By January 2019, the rate is set to reach $10.75 an hour.
With the state Legislature set to convene Monday, speakers at the news conference called on lawmakers to raise the state's $7.25-an-hour minimum wage across all counties.
'This issue shouldn't pit Democrats against Republicans,” said Paul Iversen, a labor educator with the University of Iowa Labor Center.
But with the House, Senate and governor's office controlled by Republicans for the first time in decades, some advocates are concerned that lawmakers might try to override county decisions.
Iverson urged attendees not to get discouraged and to advocate for a statewide wage increase.
'I think we don't just assume after that last election that there's nothing we can do,” he said.
In the absence of a statewide wage increase, cities in each county can decide whether to follow the ordinances.
In Linn County, city councils in Cedar Rapids and Marion - home to about 75 percent of the county population - have not held formal discussions on the ordinance, so the rate increased in both communities Jan. 1.
However, councils in Robins, Ely, Center Point and Prairieburg have passed ordinances sticking with the state minimum wage of $7.25.
In Johnson County, Tiffin passed a separate ordinance establishing a $9-an-hour minimum wage while Oxford, Shueyville, Solon and Swisher councils declined to follow the county rate.
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