BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
MONTROSE – A proposal to push the county’s minimum wage is on hold as a committee gets additional information from the Lee County Attorney’s office on a draft ordinance.
Robert Cale, a committee member on a panel that has been discussing proposing an increase in the Lee County minimum wage, had submitted a draft ordinance to Lee County Attorney Ross Braden for his review. The committee was then to submit the ordinance to the Lee County Board of Supervisors for action.
The committee got hung up on the youth employees and said Ross indicated the committee needs to include more intent language in the ordinance. Polk County’s ordinance provides 85% of the minimum wage for employees between the ages of 14 and 17 which would be $6.97/hour. Cale suggested that the committee remove the language on youth employees all together.
Supervisor Don Hunold who sits on the committee said he wanted to have Braden take another look at the youth language to get further clarification. Hunold said it was his intention to have the ordinance ready for the Supervisors at their regular meeting Tuesday morning. However, he said he didn’t know when Braden would be available to discuss the language.
“I guess when we talk to Ross, I’m ok striking (the youth wage) or adjusting it percentage-wise to what our minimum wage is. My take and I may be wrong is that he’s (Braden) not comfortable with the language there because we open ourselves up to a little debate there because of creating a different class of employee,” Cale said.
Cale said he would rather see the ordinance expedited because there is a bill in the Iowa House of Representatives that could potentially remove the local government’s ability to set their own minimum wages.
“We’re not going to give up on it. Even if they do pass a law lowering the wage, we’ll have our foot in the door for some legal grounds. If we don’t we’ll have nothing. If Branstad makes a decision it will be detrimental to our committee. We know Tom (Marion)’s opinion that he’s in favor of it, but the Iowa legislature hasn’t introduce a bill to increase the minimum wage, but one that would actually decrease the wage of 65,000 workers in these counties that have raised it,” Cale said.
The bill is House File 295, which prevents a city or county government from approving any language that sets a different minimum wage than the state’s.
The bill, which started as House Study Bill 92, had a minimum wage set at 25% above the Jan. 1, 2017 federal minimum wage which was $7.25/hour, which calculates to $9.06/hour. That specific language was removed when the study bill transitioned to the House File.
The language of the bill reads, “a city or county shall not adopt, enforce or otherwise administer an ordinance, motion, resolution or amendment providing for any terms or conditions of employment that exceed or conflict with the requirements of federal or state law relating to a minimum or living wage rate, any form of employment leave, hiring practices, employment benefits, scheduling practices or other terms or conditions of employment.”
Supervisor Matt Pflug who has been part of the committee’s work wasn’t at the meeting Wednesday night but was in favor of the rate at previous meetings.
State Sen. Rich Taylor (D-Mt. Pleasant) said he believes the bill did make it out of committee and is still in play in the House.
“I think that’s just crazy, I believe everyone should have a minimum state wage. If you want to go over that you should be able to. If you want to raise it you should be able to do that because the competition is greater in some areas than others. We’ve got that thing called Home Rule, we’re supposed to be able to make those decisions.”
Taylor said Home Rule will still be intact, but it’s certainly jeopardized by the bill.
“Home rule will still be there but what they are doing is picking away at it. For four years anything we did that took anything away from local rule the Republicans would say, “Oh the heavy hand of government.” Now they seem to be just fine with it,” Taylor said.
If the recommendation were to pass the county, cities and local governments within the county could take action on their own.
Fort Madison City Councilman Kevin Rink said the issue is touchy.
“It’s gonna be hard for some employers. We have to ask ourselves if we really understand the need and will we gain jobs and will it do anything to boost the economy.”
Rink also pointed to automation reducing the number of employees, as well as possible price hikes to compensate for the increased wages.
“I was at Sam’s this weekend and there were self checkouts. Those things take jobs away. What are we gaining…and again do we really understand the need.”
Councilman Rusty Andrews said he supports the idea of raising the minimum wage, but he went back to the “cliff” mentality Hunold had brought up at previous meetings where raising the wage could actually hurt people who qualify for state aid by eliminating the aid due to the increase in earnings, but resulting in a net loss for the family.
“I support the idea of raising the minimum wage, but I think there are some concerns that go along with it. I know someone first hand who works at a convenience store making minimum wage, and the minute she gets a raise she’s not qualified to get state aid insurance. The company offers a plan but that would take half the paycheck.. They can live on that wage if the government’s going to subsidize it,” Andrews said. “If they force the employer to raise the wage, then they have to force them to provide cheaper health insurance and that’s just not going to happen.”
Andrews, who works at a local manufacturer said there are other higher paying jobs out there.
“I work for a company that pays a good wage and we’re hiring all the time. I think there are other jobs out there. With good wages and benefits. I feel people could advance themselves if they want to, but I don’t know sometimes I think people just want to do those jobs.”
Fort Madison Partners Executive Director Tim Gobble said he thinks the local governments should wait to see how the legislature plays out.
“It all depends on what the state allows the city to do. Really we should wait to see what the state says and go from there.”