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Neighbors Growing Together | Jul 20, 2018

Iowa City rally highlights setbacks to immigrants and workers Thursday

By Erin Jordan, The Gazette | Sep 15, 2017

IOWA CITY — The goal of a Thursday night rally in downtown Iowa City was to keep fresh in people’s minds the setbacks labor unions, immigrants and workers wanting higher wages have faced in the last year.

“We are united today, and our movement is here to stay,” Mazahir Salih, an organizer for the Center for Worker Justice of Eastern Iowa, told about 100 people at the event.

A chant formed around those last three words as red-shirted union members shouted “Here to stay” after phrases including “Immigrants are ...” “Our unions are ...” and “We are ...”

President Donald Trump announced earlier this month he would end a program allowing hundreds of thousands of undocumented workers brought here by their parents to live and work in the country. A letter from a University of Iowa student with legal status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program was read at the rally.

Iowa lawmakers earlier this year passed legislation limiting the items over which public labor unions can bargain.

“One-hundred and eighty thousand Iowans had their union rights stripped away,” said Bonnie Winther, staff representative for the Communications Workers of America District 7, which includes Iowa.

The third issue highlighted at the rally was the Iowa Legislature’s prohibition on cities and counties raising the minimum wage over the $7.25 per hour set by state law.

The Johnson County Board of Supervisors in 2015 adopted an ordinance gradually raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour by January 2017. Linn County passed a similar ordinance in September 2016 that included three annual increases in the minimum wage, starting with the first increase to $8.25 on Jan. 1, 2017.

In March, former Gov. Terry Branstad signed a bill into law barring those ordinances, which said only the state can set the minimum wage.

Fatima Saeed, with the Center for Worker Justice, said one of her two jobs in Johnson County pays less than $10.10 per hour — which makes it hard for her to stay afloat financially.

“When I get paid $8 an hour, I’m struggling to get medicine, to repair my car,” she said at the rally.

About 150 Johnson County businesses have signed a pledge to pay workers at least $10.10 an hour even though it’s no longer required by local ordinance.

Ofer Sivan, co-owner of the Oasis Falafel restaurant, in Iowa City, said he never considered dropping back below $10.10 per hour.

“Not even for a second,” he said. “The minimum wage should actually be higher than that.”

Even with a $10.10 minimum wage, Oasis struggles to fill jobs in a city with only 2.2 percent unemployment, Sivan said.

A sign advertising the restaurant’s pledge to pay at least $10.10 per hour is taped just below a sign advertising full- and part-time jobs for cashiers, sandwich artists, dishwashers, line cooks and prep workers.

“There’s definitely a labor shortage, so it makes sense to offer a higher rate,” Sivan said.

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