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Supervisors pursue minimum wage hike

BY ALISON CASSITY | JULY 28, 2015 5:00 AM

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The Johnson County Board of Supervisors envisions a new Johnson County — one with a higher minimum wage.

Last week, the supervisors voted to move forward with a proposal to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 to $10.10 by 2017.

This proposal would mandate Johnson County’s minimum wage be higher than the statewide minimum wage of $7.25.

“In our county of about 150,000 residents, about 20,000 of those residents are food insecure,” Supervisor Rod Sullivan said. “Our ability to help these folks is simply outstripped by the need.”

Sullivan said that a growing need for higher pay has left the county with nowhere to turn but a wage raise in order to help the residents of Johnson County.

This push comes despite officials saying the raise is not strictly legal.

“I don’t think [the minimum-wage raise] meets the rules and regulations set out in the Iowa constitution,” Iowa Labor Commissioner Michael Mauro said. “[The supervisors] want to raise the minimum wage by home rule, but the Constitution says that you can’t make changes inconsistent with the General Assembly.”

Sullivan however, said he interprets the law differently, saying the language simply states the minimum wage must be at least $7.25 and allows for some wiggle room.

The section in question, Iowa Code Section 91D.1a, states, “The state hourly wage shall be at least $6.20 as of April 1, 2007, and $7.25 as of Jan. 1, 2008.”

The proposed raise would come in three increases of 95 cents, gradually easing employers into the raised costs, Sullivan said.

“Minimum-wage raises [like this one] don’t hurt the employee numbers or hours in counties that pass it,” Sullivan said. “The big difference is just that a lot of poor people are making more money.”

Most of the opponents to making the wage raise an ordinance cite the ability of employers to raise wages in their own businesses without being required to by a county ordinance.

This belief is echoed at a statewide level as well.

Mauro said that while individual counties do have home rule, this does not permit them to make changes inconsistent with laws passed by the Legislature.

In light of this interpretation, Mauro says, his legal team determined that the proposed $2.85 raise is unconstitutional.

However, simply raising pay on an individual employer basis would not go against any constitutional rules.

“Any employer can pay anybody any amount of money above the minimum wage if they want to, but they don’t have to,” he said. “I’m not so sure this needs to pass.”

As such, he said, further review would be necessary before the supervisors would be able to pass an ordinance requiring all employers to pay a minimum of $10.10 by 2017.

Despite the backlash, Sullivan says the supervisors intend to push forward with their proposal.

In order for the raise to become a requirement, a county ordinance needs to be passed, he said. This process can take up to five weeks, with the proposed ordinance undergoing three readings before it can go to a vote.

Sullivan said that the supervisors, at a loss for another way to aid struggling Johnson County families, hope to be able to implement the first 95-cent increase by Nov. 1.

“The fact of the matter is that we’ve got a lot of people that are hanging by a string, and if one thing goes wrong or one paycheck goes missing, we have a calamity,” he said. “We’re already doing all we can do in providing services, and this is the next step.”


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