Opinion: Iowa GOP Reverses Existing Minimum Wage Hikes and Ban Future Increases

It is probably true that there is no such thing as being cruel without malice aforethought, even for a sociopath. This is particularly true of Republicans who not only willfully cause pain and suffering for the people they represent, they willingly inflict pain and misery with glee. In what appears to be a contest to determine which Republican legislative body can inflict the most pain on Americans, Iowa Republicans have made a barbaric move to rival Republicans in Congress and the madman in the White House without the slightest concern about the pain of their constituents.

This week in Iowa the Republican-dominated legislature passed legislation nullifying any and all local minimum wage increases, no matter how long they’ve been in effect, and summarily banned any county, city or locality from ever setting wage and benefit standards again. According to Iowa Republicans, low-wage workers mired in abject poverty will stay in that condition into perpetuity and never earn a penny over the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour. As noted in the Huffington Post:

“It is the first time that a state has nullified local minimum wage ordinances that had already taken effect and forced [local] jurisdictions to [immediately] reduce minimum wage rates that had been previously raised.”

The Republicans in the state Senate passed the bill on a unanimous vote and Governor Terry Branstad’s signature means the voters elected a Republican majority in November to cruelly rob Iowa’s poverty-level workforce of whatever minimal pay raises they’ve earned over the past two years. It seems that Republicans agree with their corporate funders that it is an abomination for tens-of-thousands of Iowans in poverty to earn anything over the federal minimum wage. All wage earners who started receiving $8.20 an hour over the past two years will instantly have their wages cut back to $7.25 an hour. No doubt they would slash wages further, but until congressional Republicans abolish the federal minimum wage, low-wage Iowans will be permanently earning the federally-mandated slave wage.

The Iowa poverty workers, at least 100,000 of them, will not only continue suffering slave wages, $8.20 per hour is slave wage, they will face pay cuts of about a dollar an hour. The workers, eighty-four percent who are 20 years of age or older are predominately full-time employees. Over half are women and a third are working parents and are at least forty years old; the majority percentage work full-time.

Iowa was already one of the lowest-paying states in the Union and has not raised wages since the federal minimum was raised to $7.25 ten years ago. There have been efforts to raise the “state minimum,” but Republicans and their corporate backers obstructed those humanitarian efforts leaving the local government leaders on their own to help alleviate poverty; something the new law forbids them from ever doing again. Iowa will remain one of 21 Republican states keeping their low-wage workers mired in poverty at the level congressional Republicans believe is overly generous, $7.25 per hour.

That idea of keeping low-wage working families in poverty wasn’t appealing to many localities in Iowa, like many other humanitarian states who acted to help low-income workers. Around the nation, and for a minute in Iowa, many cities, states and counties enacted their own wage laws to improve living conditions for their residents and to boost local economic growth.

That idea of helping working families in poverty is anathema to Republicans and groups like the Koch brothers’ American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that have taken it upon themselves to not only block wage hikes, but to enact “preemptive minimum wage laws” that forbid localities from raising wages, no matter how small the increase. ALEC has been at the forefront of the preemptive laws stripping cities of their authority to help poverty workers in 23 states.

Iowa is the first state to summarily cut wages of workers who earned raises, but it is not the first to prohibit local governments from passing wage or benefit laws; prohibitions that were enacted on the directions of corporations and the Koch brothers. Of course, the conservative media is remiss to report these atrocities, including one last year when Republicans blocked the City of Birmingham, Alabama’s minimum wage increase from ever going into effect.

This Iowa travesty, and it is a self-inflicted travesty, is a portent of what lies in store for all Americans now that Republicans control the federal government. Iowa Republicans had nightly wet dreams of perpetually keeping its poverty-level workforce in economic distress, but until they gained majorities in both houses and the governor’s office they were foiled by humanitarians in Democratic ranks. The November election gave Iowa Republicans the authority they needed to enact ALEC prohibitions on wage hikes by any local government and no doubt reveled at cutting wages and criminalizing future attempts at setting wage and benefit standards.

As Mitchell Hirsch, policy advocate for the National Employment Law Project notes, Republicans have always opposed minimum wage increases as remuneration to corporations for their largesse. But “never before has a state government acted to reverse minimum wage increases already in place, and remove long-standing local self-governing rights in such a brazen fashion as in Iowa.” Although they are the first, it appears they will be joined by “equally heartless lawmakers in Missouri,” and with Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, this will likely become a national movement for Republicans.

Many pundits and political commentators have opined that it certainly looks like Republicans serving corporations and the wealthy elite want low-income working families to remain buried in poverty. With this barbarous legislation in Iowa, it is no longer an opinion because besides prohibiting any locality from setting wage and benefit standards for employees, Republicans now reversed minimum wage hikes retroactively to ensure that the poorest working Iowans will remain in perpetual poverty to satisfy ALEC and the Koch brothers.

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