An effort is underway in Lee County to increase the local minimum wage, which currently sits at $7.25/hour, the same as the statewide rate. Supporters say an increase would help hard-working people throughout the county.
The Lee County Board of Supervisors reached a consensus Tuesday to form a study group to look into the pros & cons of a minimum wage hike. A formal vote on the make-up of the group is expected Sept. 13.
The board reached its decision after hearing from about a half-dozen people during its weekly meeting. Among them was Becky Haage of Fort Madison. She admitted being nervous about speaking to the county board, but said it was important for her to let the supervisors know that people are struggling and an increase in the minimum wage would help.
Haage said she left a job she held at Dollar General for three years to take a higher paying position in a local factory.
“My boss at Dollar General… was very good,” said Haage. “She tried to get me the raises, obviously, because I was up to $11/hour by the time I left but corporate… is not going to approve much more than that.”
Haage said not all of her former co-workers have the ability to leave their jobs like she did last week, which is why she spoke up for them. She said when people earn a living wage, the additional money finds its way back into the community, helping local businesses.
“My home needs improvements. If I make more money, I will spend it back in my community," she told supervisors.
Jennifer Hauff of Keokuk echoed Haage’s thoughts.
Hauff told the board that she had spent her life in poverty, even after graduating from college with honors. She spoke of a woman she knows who recently got a job paying a living wage.
Hauff said this woman was able to pay her bills on time and buy both a washing machine and a bicycle.
Michael Bennett of Donnellson seemed to sum up the spirit of the supporters, telling the board, “I believe that a job shouldn’t keep a person in poverty, but it should lift them up out of poverty,"
Bennett is a licensed pastor and the President of the Lee County Labor Council.
He said he would like to see something in the range of $10-$12/hour, knowing that $15/hour is unrealistic, given the current minimum wage is $7.25.
No one at the meeting spoke in opposition to the increase.
Board Chairman Ron Fedler appointed Vice Chairman Matt Pflug of Keokuk and Supervisor Don Hunold of rural Donnellson to lead the study group. The board will nominate other people to serve, with Fedler stressing the need to have a diverse group of members to make sure all sides are represented.
If the county does increase the minimum wage, incorporated cities would be able to opt out.
But Keokuk Mayor Tom Marion told the supervisors that he supports an increase in the minimum wage and he fully expects his city could would do the same if the county board led the way.