The Republican-controlled Legislature rammed through a heartless reversal of higher wages for thousands of Iowans and their families earlier this year. They arrogantly overruled the four Iowa counties (Johnson, Linn, Polk and Wapello) that had each passed minimum wage increases for their residents. Now, six months later, it appears the national “Fight for $15” is gaining momentum among corporate leaders. This puts the Iowa GOP anti-wage increase on the wrong side of both business and history.
Last week Target became the first low-wage employer to announce it would raise their minimum starting wage to $15 by 2020. That decision, as well as similar moves by other retailers, confirms the Iowa Democratic county supervisors’ actions as champions for higher wages. Target’s decision contradicts Republicans and their corporate lobbyists claims that it was impossible to raise minimum wages to $15/hour.
The Republicans’ cruel resistance to passing a living wage shows them to be in a part of a shrinking minority. They have argued for years that it’s impractical and unwise to raise the minimum wage. They have argued that it would hurt businesses and the economy.
While the $15/hour push is gaining momentum, there remains ugly resistance. The result of a “Fight for $15” strike at a Burger King in Ankeny, Iowa over Labor Day weekend resulted in the firing of the employee for leading the store. The firing puts Burger King in violation of the National Labor Relations Act, which allows strikes for higher wages. Citizens for Community Improvement Action Fund (CCI Action), along with Democratic gubernatorial candidate Cathy Glasson returned to the store last week to protest the firing.
“We’re not going to stop until Burger King backs down,” said Hugh Espey, executive director of CCI. “We’re going to keep coming back and keep coming back.”
The Ankeny Burger King owners are willing to break the law rather than allow strikes over a living wage. But many other businesses have realized that paying their employees a living wage is in their own best self -interest.
Target as a retail leader demonstrates that business experts are correct when they argue that low-paying retail companies will benefit by raising wages. Target Chief Executive Brian Cornell said they made the decision to raise wages to $15 by 2020 in order to attract and retain talent.
Walmart announced in 2016 it would raise all employees’ wages to a minimum of $10 per hour after an initial training period. Costco currently starts workers at $11.50 and their employee average wage is $21 per hour. Even McDonalds is raising their pay to achieve an average of $10.
MIT business professor Zeynep Ton points to companies like Costco and Trader Joes as examples of companies that can increase productivity by investing in their employees through higher wages and benefits.
“Low pay is hurting America’s working families and holding back our economy, which depends on a thriving consumer class to drive growth,” according to Ton.
One of the major reasons to increase low-wage workers’ pay is to reduce poverty. The food insecurity in Polk County was one of the primary motivations driving the Polk County Supervisors to pass an increase in the minimum wage. According to the Iowa Policy Project, 36,000 Polk County workers would have seen their wages increase had legislative Republicans allowed it to go into effect. Polk County’s minimum wage would have increased in three steps reaching $10.75 in 2019 with an index for inflation. Polk County Supervisor Tom Hockensmith summed up their effort to raise wages, “We are collectively trying to put something together that helps people,” he said.
GOP legislators’ arrogant disregard to the wage needs of Iowans may come back to haunt them in the 2018 election cycle. Republicans crushed the hopes of thousands of Iowans wanting to improve the economic security for their families. Hopefully, these voters will remember what the Republican legislators did to them and their families in 2018 and beyond.
by Rick Smith