City Hall

City's On and Off Quest to Pay Contracted Workers Not-Horrible Wages Back On

Perhaps more than anything, the ongoing skirmish at Dallas City Hall over whether and how to bump hourly pay requirements for contractors doing work for the city is an object lesson in how ideas that aren't that controversial often wither on the vine. The way council member Philip Kingston describes it, it's death by a thousand briefings.

"We'll talk about it and talk about it until we die," Kingston said. "I hate it when [the council] disagrees [with city staff] and we kill things with procedure."

Wednesday's was at least the third briefing regarding pay for contractor workers given to the full council or a council committee this year. The amount being bandied about is $10.37 an hour, the pay rate established as a living wage for single Dallas County workers by MIT's living wage calculator. The city has considered changing the way things are done in one of two ways. The easiest option to understand would simply require any firm with a city contract to pay its employees at least $10.37. The second, which city staff views as more feasible, would award points in the contracting process to firms that pay their workers the magic amount. Dallas' city attorney, Warren Ernst, believes the city could face legal trouble if it goes with option one.

Toward the end of the summer, the wage push appeared to be petering out. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings explained today that he'd previously felt there wasn't significant support for doing anything on the council because no member had suggested a way in which the increased wages, passed on to the city through contractors, might be covered in the budget. The money, Rawlings said, had to come from somewhere.

The council made it clear during the latest staff briefing that wasn't the case. Members of each of the burgeoning coalitions on the council expressed strong support for the wage mandate. Rickey Callahan, who's typically on board with the mayor's program, talked about how economic development won't come to his Pleasant Grove-centered district until his constituents have more money to spend.

"Without disposable income, you're not going to grow anywhere," he said, alluding to Dallas' Grow South initiative.

Mark Clayton, part of the gang of four that includes Kingston, Adam Medrano and Scott Griggs, talked about choosing to pay better wages at his own small business, an insurance office.

“This is a moral issue,” Clayton said. “Our citizens deserve efficient service, but if you ask ‘Do our citizens expect us to pay people at almost slave wages?’ I think they would disagree with that.”

Tiffinni Young, who took over Carolyn Davis' District 7 seat earlier this year, was incredulous that anyone doubted the city might not want to have contracted workers paid an extra three dollars an hour.

Rawlings acknowledged that he saw the need for something to be done, but raised the specter of the Dwaine Caraway-inspired plastic bag brouhaha that ended when the city got sued for requiring retailers to impose a 5-cent charge for the bags. He didn't want the city to get tied into another legal mess, he said, before taking a straw vote as to how the council wanted to move forward. Rawlings offered the required wage, awarding points in the contracting process and doing nothing as options.

The council, ignoring Rawlings and Ernst, seemed willing to risk it, and voted to move forward with requiring any firm doing contract work with the city to pay its workers $10.37.
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Stephen Young has written about Dallas news for the Observer since 2014. He's a Dallas native and a graduate of the University of North Texas.
Contact: Stephen Young