Employees use a cash register at Cortado Coffee & Cafe on S. Clinton st. on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Businesses all over Johnson County will be impacted by the change in minimum wage. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)
Employees use a cash register at Cortado Coffee & Cafe on S. Clinton st. on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Businesses all over Johnson County will be impacted by the change in minimum wage. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

Locals mixed on minimum wage

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By Gina Jochimsen | gina-jochimsen@uiowa.edu

It has been two months since Johnson County adopted the highest minimum wage in Iowa; local business owners, elected officials, and student employees differed on what this wage increase means to the community.

Co-owner of Prairie Lights Books in Iowa City Jan Weissmiller said she is glad to comply in all cases with the new minimum wage.

“We are grateful to our customers for their support of local businesses whose priority is to provide a living wage to their employees,” she said. “A healthy community is one in which businesses and consumers come together to ensure that all its citizens can thrive.”

In 2015, the Johnson County Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that  increased the minimum wage each year until it reached $10.10 in 2017. Iowa Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, said Iowa’s statewide minimum wage should be the same as the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

An employee makes coffee at Cortado Coffee & Cafe on S. Clinton st. on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Businesses all over Johnson County will be impacted by the change in minimum wage. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

An employee makes coffee at Cortado Coffee & Cafe on S. Clinton st. on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Businesses all over Johnson County will be impacted by the change in minimum wage. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

“As a cosponsor of legislation to raise the federal minimum wage, Dave has fought to increase pay nationwide. At the same time, Republicans have refused to even consider legislation on a national level, which is why Dave has supported folks acting on a local level and would not support changing the rules after counties have decided to take action on their own,” said Joe Hand, the chief of staff for Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, in an email to The Daily Iowan.

Johnson County Democrat Amy Nielsen said minimum wages should be relative to costs of living.

“The amount of money to take care of a family in Iowa is different than it is in Virginia or Wyoming,” she said. “I would take the federal wage as a starting point, and each state should set theirs per their cost of living.”

The cost of living in Johnson County is the highest in the state with monthly expenses ranging from $2,300 to $7,300 but Johnson County Republican Chairman Matt Evans said the wage increase is a threat.

An employee makes coffee at T.Spoons in the Old Capital Mall on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Businesses all over Johnson County will be impacted by the change in minimum wage. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

An employee makes coffee at T.Spoons in the Old Capital Mall on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Businesses all over Johnson County will be impacted by the change in minimum wage. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

“The Johnson County minimum-wage increase has threatened the ability of small businesses to thrive,” he said. “It drives up costs throughout the local economy and creates a barrier for new workers entering the workforce.”

Cortado owner Yochai Harel said that in his experience, employees care more about the quality of their jobs than their salaries.

“If people like to work, enjoy the environment, and do well, then that matters more to people that I have seen than a minimum wage,” he said.

University of Iowa student and Bread Garden Market employee Ben Smith said even at $10.10 per hour, living on a minimum wage while pursuing his education concerns him.

Jammie Goedken and employee laugh at T.Spoons in the Old Capital Mall on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Businesses all over Johnson County will be impacted by the change in minimum wage. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

Jammie Goedken and employee laugh at T.Spoons in the Old Capital Mall on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017. Businesses all over Johnson County will be impacted by the change in minimum wage. (The Daily Iowan/Lily Smith)

“On top of the typical day-to-day expenditures, Iowa City is the most expensive place to live in Iowa, which adds to the fact that we’re students trying manage this monstrous bill we eventually must pay off,” he said.

T. Spoons owner Jammie Goedken said the minimum-wage increase made owning a business in a college town more unstable.

“As a business, we would never want to under-pay our student employees,” Goedken said. “But it somewhat takes away from my ability to decide who gets paid based on performance.”

Drew Letcher, the owner of Brew Lab, said he is not worried about a higher minimum wage.

“The higher wage is good, give people a good amount,” he said. “A few bucks are not going to break anyone.”