‘Fight for $15, fight for fair!’

Des Moines, Iowa

Polk County Fight for $15 activists are opposing a task force proposal that calls for a gradual $10.75 minimum wage and a “youth wage exemption,” instead demanding a living wage for all workers.

On Aug. 25, nearly two dozen Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement members “packed the room” during a minimum wage task force meeting, according to Iowa CCI organizer Emily Schott. Despite the outpouring of support for $15, the 13-member task force voted to gradually raise the minimum wage to $10.75 an hour by 2019 “with a cost of living adjustment.”

Adding insult to injury, the panel also voted for a “youth wage exemption” affecting workers ages 14 to 17, who will earn only 85 percent of the minimum wage.

Schott said the supervisors are bowing down to big business so “large corporations like the grocery industry can continue to hire hard-working youth at terrible wages.”

The grocery industry is one of the biggest employers of youth, leading the charge for a youth wage in other states. According to Iowa CCI co-organizer Bridget Fagan-Reidburn, grocery industry representatives were present at the last task force meeting who were not at the other public gatherings.

The age discrimination being recommended by the task force affects teenage workers with children or family members to support, college students with school loans to pay off and other situations where workers struggle to make ends meet.

“No matter your age, you should be paid the same for doing the same work,” Fagan-Reidburn said.

The proposed exemption does not exist in local, state or federal law, but this is not the first time such a proposal has been suggested.

In “Fast Food Nation,” author Eric Schlosser tells about when McDonald’s co-founder Raymond Albert “Ray” Kroc donated over $250,000 to President Richard Nixon’s re-election campaign in 1972, the same year the fast food industry lobbied Washington to support “the McDonald’s bill.” The bill would have allowed workers 16 to 17 years old to earn only 20 percent of the minimum wage — which was $1.60 per hour back then. If enacted now, “the McDonald’s bill” would have reduced some wages to $1.28 per hour.

The bill wasn’t passed, but efforts to pick low-wage workers’ pockets continue.

Schott said the vote is just a recommendation and the Polk County Board of Supervisors will make the final decision on raising the wage in October. “[We’re] gearing up to take the fight to the supervisors in September to let them know it’s got to be $15!” she emphasized.