Dallas Mayor Wants City Council To Consider Raising Minimum Wage For Some Workers | KERA News

Dallas Mayor Wants City Council To Consider Raising Minimum Wage For Some Workers

Jun 22, 2014

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings said over the weekend he wants the City Council to consider raising the minimum wage for workers employed by city contractors. The mayor's announcement comes after Dallas County is considering a similar increase -- and as cities and states across the country are raising the minimum wage, saying their workers should be earning more.

Congress passed the current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour in 2009. Efforts since then to increase it have failed.

Others acting on minimum wage

Since Congress isn’t budging on the issue, President Barack Obama has issued an executive order raising the minimum pay for federal contract employees to $10.10 an hour beginning in January.

Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have also raised their minimum pay above the federal rate. Seattle is phasing in the highest hourly minimum of $15 for employers throughout its city.

Texas' minimum wage is $7.25 an hour.

What Dallas and Fort Worth mayors say

Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings was among city leaders this weekend weighing in on the fair pay issue at the U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Dallas. Rawlings says Dallas currently pays city employees at least $10.85 an hour. But employees for companies with city contracts are often paid less. Those companies provide services like sanitation, lawn maintenance and concessions at Dallas Love Field. Rawlings, a former Pizza Hut CEO, thinks council members should take a look at that.

“So many individuals work in entry-level positions of our concessionaires," he said. "Do we as a city want to spend the money and make sure they get a leg up or are we trying to get it as cheap as possible? What is the right thing for taxpayers, for citizens, for the city of Dallas? And that discussion needs to be had."

Fort Worth Mayor Betsy Price is among city leaders who do not believe their cities should set a minimum wage. She said Fort Worth employees earn above the minimum, but she wants the marketplace to determine what city contractors pay their workers. 

What's happening elsewhere in Dallas-Fort Worth 

Dallas County judge Clay Jenkins has called for paying county contract workers $10.25 an hour, The Dallas Morning News reports. County employees currently make at least $10.25 an hour. Earlier this month, Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins sent a letter to the Texas attorney general seeking advice as to whether the county can go ahead with the $10.25 hourly proposal.

Starting next week, Parkland Memorial Hospital employees will earn a minimum of $10.25 an hour, WFAA-TV reports.

Minimum wage = $15,000 a year

The annual salary of a full-time minimum wage worker is just $15,000 a year, which is 17 percent below the poverty line for a family of four, said David Weil, head of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour division.

“Every day, low-wage workers around the country are asking themselves questions like 'Do I buy a gallon of milk or a gallon of gas? Do I pay the utility bill this month or buy medication for my family?' That’s simply unacceptable,” Weil told several dozen mayors at the Mayors Conference.

The situation in Texas

Meanwhile, we reported in March that a minimum-wage worker can't afford a two-bedroom apartment in Texas. In Texas, a minimum-wage worker would have to work 93 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom rental, according to a study from the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

In Texas, a worker needs to make $16.77 an hour to afford a two-bedroom apartment – or an annual salary of nearly $35,000. In North Texas, you need to earn a bit more. In Dallas, you need to earn $17.56 an hour. In Fort Worth-Arlington, you need to make $18.04.

Minimum wages state by state

Texas and other states in light blue have $7.25/hour minimum wage rates, the same as the federal rate, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.

A look at minimum wage rates across the country. Texas and other states in light blue have $7.25/hour minimum wage rates, the same as the federal rate. States in green have minimum wage rates higher than the federal rate. States in light purple have rates lower than the federal rate. States in dark purple have no minimum wage law.
Credit U.S. Department of Labor

What other cities say

Other cities represented at the Mayors Conference are acting on the minimum wage issue.

St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay says his city passed a living wage ordinance that requires organizations that have city contracts to pay employees $12.37 an hour plus benefits, or $16 an hour if benefits aren’t offered.

Boston requires city contractors to pay $13.76 an hour. Mayor Martin Walsh says even that isn’t a lot.

“A lot of cities in the country are becoming cities of haves and have-nots," Walsh said. "And if we really want to address the issue and talk about ending poverty, we have to deal with the issue of what’s the minimum wage. And I don’t care who you are it’s very difficult to raise a family on a minimum wage.”

Mayors Conference takes action

The Mayors Conference committee discussing pay inequity passed a resolution urging Congress to reconsider and raise the hourly minimum wage to $10.10.

Weil, with the Department of Labor, believes that could make a difference if the mayors get behind the issue and make some noise.

“I think all of this creates enormous pressure on Congress to catch up with what everyone else is doing in the state and local government level," Weil said.

Weil says the impact of mandating $10.10 an hour for everyone would be enormous in Texas. The Lone Star state leads the country in the number of minimum-wage workers.

Fortune magazine reports:

Out of an estimated total workforce of nearly 11 million in Texas, a $10.10 minimum wage would directly affect 1.95 million people – in other words, that many Texans would get a raise because a $10.10 wage would surpass what they currently make. (Another 920,000 Texans would be indirectly affected since they make just above $10.10 and a minimum wage hike would likely adjust pay scales overall.)

Creating a task force

At the annual U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting, mayors announced the formation of the Cities of Opportunity Task Force to tackle "America's growing inequality crisis." 

"We are living in a time of rising inequality and declining opportunity," said Bill de Blasio, New York City's mayor. "This is a threat to our fundamental values and an obstacle to the nation's economic growth."

Photo credit: Kenny Tong/Shutterstock.com