Jenkins Proposes Raising Minimum Wage for Dallas County contract workers

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins on Tuesday proposed raising the minimum wage for private employees who do contract work for the county.

Full-time workers who handle janitorial duties, security and other labor would be paid at least $10.25 per hour under the policy. Currently, many of those employees are paid at or slightly above the federal minimum, which is $7.25 per hour.

“We all do better when we all do better and everyone gets a chance to get ahead,” Jenkins said. “And when you are making $8 an hour cleaning out a toilet, you don’t have as much of a chance to get ahead.”

The exact details of the proposal still need to be ironed out, officials said. But Jenkins said he envisions including a minimum among the specifications it requires when it seeks bids for contract work. The Commissioners Court considered one such bid during Tuesday’s meeting, approving janitorial services for the county’s Health and Human Services building.

Jenkins abstained from the vote because the contractor planned to hire a janitor who would work 40 hours per week at $8 per hour. That adds up to over $16,000 per year, with no medical benefits. The others members of the court unanimously approved the contract.

“It is impossible, because of the decisions that this state has made not to accept Medicaid expansion dollars, for a person to afford decent health care at $16,000 per year,” Jenkins said. “If a person is paid $10 an hour…they can afford to be above poverty.”

The policy idea was met with some skepticism. The Commissioners Court’s lone Republican, Mike Cantrell, argued it was a case of government interference and worried about how it would affect the county’s financial situation.

“What you are trying to do is dictate to private enterprises how they are going to run their business” Cantrell said.

And raising the salary of the lowest-paid workers likely means that companies will also have to give raises to their managers, Cantrell said.

“You are going to see our bids go way up across the board,” he said.

At least one Democrat, Commissioner John Wiley Price, seemed to agree. He said he worries about future financial burdens the county could face and whether the policy could bring problems down the line.

Shannon Brown, the county purchasing agent, said she has just begun researching how much the policy would cost. So far, she has looked at janitorial services and estimated 20 full-time day workers would be affected — and that doesn’t include night cleaning crews, she said. Other workers like security guards and construction workers also need to be considered, she said.

Brown said her preliminary estimate is that it would cost the county about $500,000 extra each year. She plans to complete a more detailed estimate before the court votes on the issue. That could take weeks since there are hundreds of contracts to review.

Jenkins acknowledged that there could be obstacles in implementing such a policy. For one, there may be legal challenges. And he said the county would need to make sure that it could prevent companies from hiring two part-time workers at minimum wage instead of one full-time employee at a higher rate.

But Jenkins said he is confident that those things can be worked out.

“I don’t think it is unreasonable to say that as a county government we want our citizens to get a living wage if they are providing services,” he said.