POLK COUNTY, Iowa -- On Saturday, those who fought for a higher minimum wage in Polk County gathered to celebrate their victory, and make a request to the Iowa legislature as the new session is about to start.
“We want to see a living wage for all Iowans, so we're pushing the Polk County supervisors to raise that,” said Adam Mason, State Policy Director for Iowa CCI.
The Polk County Board of Supervisors responded in October, agreeing to raise the minimum wage in the county to $10.75 per hour over a three-year period.
However, in the upcoming legislative session, Democrats expect the Republican-controlled Congress to try and take that power away--a move lamented by those who fought for the increase.
“We believe that local officials know what their local community needs and should have the right to raise the wage if they see fit. Do we need a higher wage across the state? Absolutely; Iowans are struggling right now, but local communities should have the right to raise the wage, too,” said Mason.
House Republican Ralph Watts disagrees.
“If we have a minimum wage it should be a statewide minimum wage,” said Representative Watts.
Watts argues that different wages in different areas would limit economic development.
“Say they have a franchise and they’re opening up a new part of their franchise business, they probably will avoid opening it up in an area with a high minimum wage," he said.
Watts calls the argument for a higher minimum wage a moot point.
“You can go out here into Waukee right now and they are advertising for people and will pay $10 per hour starting, so the minimum wage really has nothing to do with what they’re paying, it’s what the market demands,” he said.
Watts says the call for a living minimum wage goes against what he believes a minimum wage is designed to do.
“When people talk about minimum wage as a way to make a living wage, the only way you can make a living wage is to get the skills to get you out of that minimum wage category,” said Watts.
Small business owner John Bartlett owns Iowa Work and Play, a new business where industry workers can buy scrubs, steel-toed boots, and the like. He disagrees with Representative Watts.
“It’s my responsibility to do the right thing for the right reason," said Bartlett. "There’s tons of corporate greed out there, and I feel that it’s essentially obscene for your mega retailers, your super retailers, to not pay a living wage."
The minimum wage in Polk County is scheduled to increase to $8.75 per hour in April.