The quotation marks around the item title "Living Wage" Discussion on the Dallas City Council's agenda are there for a reason. The rate being discussed Wednesday for city contracted workers, $10.25 an hour, is not a living wage unless you're childless, and even then it's close. But it is a start, and a significant one in a city whose newspaper of record, The Dallas Morning News, coined the term "right-to-work."
The $10.25 number was suggested by Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings' anti-poverty task force in August 2014. According to the city, 87 percent of contracted employees make more than $10.62 an hour, the minimum rate for city employees. Bumping employees currently making less than $10.25 to the proposed minimum would cost the city $12 million annually, according to the manager's office, but Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston says contractors currently paying low wages are receiving a hidden subsidy.
"We're trying to make sure that the most vulnerable people in the city of Dallas who want to work can put in a solid week's worth of work and have a fighting chance to pay for the basic necessities of life, including healthcare," he says. "The healthcare piece is important because we pay them one way or another. We either give people a wage that allows them to operate like a real member of our society and pay for their own stuff, or they wind up at Parkland," a public hospital.
Kingston's not dead set on $10.25. He and four additional city council members — Tiffinni Young, Mark Clayton, Adam Medrano and Scott Griggs — just wanted to have a discussion about raising the minimum wage, so they sent a memo to Rawlings. Any memo with five council signatures on it requires the mayor to act. The council members are worried about workers hired by city contractors, sure, but they also wanted to talk about raising the minimum wage citywide, Kingston says. City staff's presentation on the subject, included below, does not address the potential for a citywide increase.
If the city — or county, County Judge Clay Jenkins also supports a wage hike — were to attempt a more wide-ranging pay raise, it would seemingly come into conflict with the Texas Labor Code, which prohibits cities or counties from setting a minimum wage higher than the federal standard, currently $7.25, for employees of private entities. Still, Kingston says, higher wages for Dallas residents at the bottom of the city's pay scale benefit the entire city.
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"When you think through the larger picture, it's not a question of giving a handout to someone whose work doesn't deserve it. It's a question of how can we all live together in this city in a sustainable way," he says. "Everything we do in this business should be based on sustainability. That's what we're really after, a sustainable system."
Kingston was ambivalent about potentially challenging the state by enacting a citywide wage ordinance.
"I would be willing to [test the state], probably. I could be talked out of it; if it's really legally just a terrible idea," he says. "It's yet another thing that the state doesn't have any business telling us what we oughta do and not do. I'm just dead sick of them meddling in our stuff."