This is why I stood up for $15

In Polk County a family of 4 requires a minimum of two people earning $17 per hour to meet a basic-needs budget without assistance.* This assumes both people are working 40 hours per week. For a single parent with one child the basic needs wage rises to $22.33/hr. With this in mind CCI engaged in a movement to raise the wage. When the Polk County Supervisors, hearing our call, decided to take up the issue of raising the minimum wage, I was optimistic. As a union member I have advocacy for my wages and benefits. Most people in Polk County and the state of Iowa are not represented by a union. That’s why it is an important step for the County Supervisors to raise the wage—they represent the people of Polk County.

At Iowa CCI, we have been fighting for $15 an hour. I believe a $15 minimum wage should be the bare minimum. For workers it is a compromise.

This week the county supervisors held a mid-day meeting with the intention of hearing public input (for 15 minutes) in order to set a wage amount and implementation schedule. As the meeting opened, Supervisor Tom Hockensmith offered excuses for why $15/hr was “unreasonable and unrealistic.” The supervisors on the task force were determined to take $15/hr off the table even before public comment period, and we didn’t let them.

Reasons offered by the board and the business leaders focused on negative arguments in an effort to deny a wage increase of $15/hr. While claiming to represent all concerned parties, numbers like 9 or 10 dollars an hour were offered as acceptable compromises.

With such an agenda set in advance and clearly intended to dismiss $15/hr, I felt the need to change the conversation. After asking to be recognized by Chairman Hockensmith I pointed out the task force clearly didn’t represent the people in Polk County as it claims. Not only was it lacking representation from low wage workers, I didn’t see any people of color at the table. I then pointed out how much it actually takes to raise a family here in Polk county—not New York, not Chicago, not LA, but here in Iowa; many people working  full time, if hit by an emergency expense such as a car repair or medical bill, don’t have the means to pay. The question for me, as I point out to the board, was not why we needed $15/hr, but why the board wasn’t pointing out how people need more to survive.

Instead of focusing on the positive aspects of raising the wage: decreased poverty, increased spending in our local economy, less people delinquent on their bills, and more people better able to contribute to a healthy, safe community, the board brought an agenda to silence the people who most need a wage increase. In doing so, they demonstrated a lack of courage to champion the people they are elected to serve.

Given the needs of people in Polk County I could not remain silent as our government leaders continued to allow advocates for a pro-business anti-people agenda to dictate the terms by which people in our community work and live by. It’s time we all exercise our voices and demand more from our elected officials. That means making sure they provide for the welfare of all people, not just those with access and money. It means even if our civic leaders will not, I continue to fight for $15 and I will not be silent.

Ross Grooters
Member, Iowa CCI

*Iowa Policy Project, “The Case for a Polk County Minimum Wage”