BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
KEOKUK – A committee of seven people representing north and south Lee County are recommending an 95-cent increase in the state minimum wage.
Meeting at the Keokuk Labor Temple, after about an hour of discussion with owners of child care centers and a member of an Iowa labor organization, the group decided to have the Lee County Attorney Ross Braden draw up a resolution that would be submitted to the Lee County Board of Supervisors for consideration.
Two supervisors, Matt Pflug and Don Hunold, were a part of the committee recommending the increase.
Hunold outlined scenarios he called “cliffs” that exist by raising the minimum wage incrementally to where it results in a net loss for people in the county who are on state aid for food, child care, etc.
“We have to be careful here. We need to do something, but we can cause some havoc on what we have,” Hunold said.
Whitney Wagaman, owner of Rosie Posie Child Development Center told the committee that raising the minimum wage would result in her families possibly not being able to afford child care.
She said that pushing the wage even to $8.50 an hour would knock some people out of state aid and it would be more difficult to afford child care because they make an additional $50 or so a week, but could potentially lose $130 a week in state aid.
Currently I have two employees right above minimum wage – high schoolers. I have some at 8.25 to $9.00 and some that are $10 and up to $11 and whatever is left I pay to myself. My concern with raising the minimum wage is my private pay families. Those families that pay out of pocket for multiple children. I’m going to be forced to raise my rates and what’s the impact on them?”
“I’m also concerned about me raising rates. I have to receive the same amount of money from DHS and 65-70% are getting child care assistance. $1,90o per month is the maximum they can make and meet eligibility requirements and that is one child. They can’t make anymore than that to receive assistance. I have families that struggle to make copays and families that struggle to pay out of pocket. My daily rates are just shy of $27 a day, so I try to stay as affordable as possible, but it’s going to impact my families pretty hard. They’re not going to get paid anymore when the wages get raised. Those that pay out of pocket are gonna be the ones that take the brunt end of it.”
“We need to do something here,” Pflug said. “We’re staying under the $8.22 that’s that cliff you’re talking about. But it gets us in there and that’s the key. At the end of the day we know $8.20 is not a livable wage.”
Robert Cale, who’s been helping organize the effort told Wagaman increasing the wage would help get people off subsidies.
“You’re subsidized in two ways. Your employees are getting subsidies and your families are getting subsidies. If you’re not wiling to pay enough for your workers to be off state aid, why should the tax payers subsidize your business? If those wages were higher in Lee County we can get some of those people off state aid and stop subsidizing your business.
“By raising the floor of the lowest paid workers in Lee County I think that’s a positive.”
Tracy Leone, organizer of the Iowa Federation of Labor suggested if Wagaman raised her prices $10 per week and a private-pay family makes $60 more per week with an increased wage they are still $50 ahead for the week.
Leone also mentioned House Study Bill 92 currently being considered in the Iowa House of Representative that would make it illegal for cities and counties to set their own minimum wage. She encouraged the panel and the county to move on the wage before the legislature takes up the bill.
“The bill will actually make it illegal to set a wage higher than the state minimum. And they don’t have a bump in there as it is. We thought they might set a new minimum wage with that bill, but it’s not in there. It basically removes Home Rule,” she said.
“One other thing we have to consider, and it’s a big thing, is if the county passes this, but if a city doesn’t adopt it, the county just screwed themselves.”
Leone said cities can still establish their own wage outside of the county, similar to Solon who set a lower wage than Johnson County.
“I was at the hearing where they set the lower standard and there were business after business after business there saying they already pay higher wages because they value their employees,” Leone said. The only company that went in there to lobby for the lower wage was Dairy Queen. A large corporation that employees teenagers or exploits them, whatever you want to say. The city then waived the 2nd and 3rd readings of the ordinance and passed the lower wage right there. You can be sure all of those councilman will face a challenge during the next election. Two have already resigned.
“If Keokuk just wanted to do this they could but I think Mayor Marion said he supports an increase. Fort Madison could do it but they would do it at their own peril and this is an election year. Three months before they’re up for election. Would you vote for a guy that did that?”
The committee agreed to meet again next Wednesday at the Lee County Sheriff’s office to review the resolution before submitting it to the Supervisors.