As Dane County becomes the first county in Wisconsin to step toward a $15 an hour minimum wage, other cities and counties are starting to follow Dane County’s example and push to support economic equality across the state.
Under state law, local governing bodies, like Dane County’s, cannot implement a minimum wage raise that covers all workers in the county or city, Working Families Party Chair Peter Rickman said. As such, Dane County Board’s plan to raise the wage to $15 over a course of six years will only apply to county employees. The body voted unanimously toward a three percent raise to employees as well as a two percent cost of living adjustment to human service workers last month.
Though it will only affect a few, Rickman said this proposal will set precedent for other counties to take action and put pressure on upper levels of government to raise wages. Milwaukee and Eau Claire Counties also recently passed proposals to move toward a $15 minimum wage.
“It’s a matter of good organizing, solid training and building the political will of the leadership,” Rickman said. “It’s bullshit that we haven’t raised wages.”
But National Federation of Independent Business’ Wisconsin director Bill Smith said raising the minimum wage to even $12 an hour could hurt struggling small businesses.
With an increased minimum wage, businesses could be forced to reduce their labor force due to rising payroll costs or even increase costs to consumers, Smith said.
“Increasing the minimum wage would be devastating for the smaller businesses,” Smith said.
For hardworking families and employees, however, raising the minimum wage could provide support, Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, said. She praised Dane County’s efforts to push for higher wages.
But Sargent said more work is needed on a legislative level to loosen restrictions on local governments.
“I wish that our state didn’t preempt the ability to expand the minimum wage to everyone in Dane County,” Sargent said. “It’s shortsighted to stand in the way of our local governments and their work to support workers.”
Sargent introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 in 2015 but the bill failed to pass in Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled Legislature. Sargent said she will keep fighting for the issue but changing state law on what local governments can do to raise minimum wage will take more effort. Rallying more support for minimum wage efforts on a local level as Dane County is looking to do could help move the process further on a legislative level, she said.
Still, Smith said even though raising the minimum wage seems like it will help workers, it will end up hurting them in the long run because of the likely damage to the economy.
According to an NFIB study, increasing the minimum wage would also reduce economic growth. A 65 percent increase in labor cost for small employers can lower economic output by trillions of dollars, Smith said.
But Sargent said raising the minimum wage is a sustainable move for the state’s long-term economic growth. Increasing people’s income will encourage them to spend more and put money back into the economy, which will keep it running, she said. Rickman said it will also help raise living standards and increase worker productivity.
Dane County Supervisor Jenni Dye, District 33, said in an email to The Badger Herald the Dane County Board’s next steps are to continue enacting similar proposals and further lay the groundwork toward a $15 minimum wage. She said she is looking forward to hearing people’s response to the increase.
“As more Americans hear their stories and as we see the impact of living wage ordinance’s like Dane County’s go into place, this movement will continue to see successes across the country,” Dye said.