Living Wage Plan Sparks Dallas County Political Feud

By Ken Kalthoff
|  Wednesday, Jan 29, 2014  |  Updated 9:38 AM CDT
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Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is asking commissioners to eliminate the lowest pay grades in county government as a gesture to spark community debate about paying wages that keep working people out of poverty.

Ken Kalthoff, NBC 5 News

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is asking commissioners to eliminate the lowest pay grades in county government as a gesture to spark community debate about paying wages that keep working people out of poverty.

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A plan to promote higher wages to keep working people out of poverty sparked heated debate between Dallas County Commissioners on Tuesday.

Democratic Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins is pushing a plan to eliminate the two lowest worker pay grades in county government and raise minimum county wages to $10.10 an hour.

Jenkins said the move would be a gesture to raise attention to the living wage issue for other employers.

“We hope other companies will join us in doing that and we’ll have a real discussion in the community about what is our obligation as a community in making sure that people have a living wage and we’ll help build a stronger middle class,” Jenkins said.

Ahead of his State of the Union speech Tuesday, the White House said Democratic President Barack Obama will use an executive order to raise the country's minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 and hour from the current $7.25.

Jenkins is also running for re-election with Republican opposition.

Mike Cantrell, the only Republican on the five member Dallas County Commissioners Court, blasted Jenkins’ plan.

He said the changes should wait for a planned study of all the county's pay scales to be conducted by a paid consultant for the county human resources department.

“You just come in, in what I deem to be political purposes, and just take something out, instead of looking at the overall compensation plan as a whole. Because there's really no advantage to doing it right now. Is there an emergency to do it right now?” Cantrell said.

Cantrell said lower paying jobs provide some married couples with insurance and other benefits they may not have.

County pay grade one is from $8.28 to $12.77 and hour. Pay grade two is from $8.87 to $13.41.

Jenkins said all but seven of the county's 6,000 employees earn more than $11 an hour.

Officials from the county's human resources department said no employee has been in grade one or two in the past 15 years and there are no plans to hire anyone at those wages now.

“You’re trying to eliminate something to make it look like you are doing something when we don’t even have those positions,” Cantrell said. “That’s why I like it coming through HR. We need it coming through HR so we understand comprehensively what we’re doing.”

Union leaders at Tuesday’s Commissioners Court meeting spoke in favor of making the changes as soon as possible.

Jenkins said saving the low pay grades serves no purpose.

“Having the ability to pay people poverty wages is not a safety net for anybody. Taxpayers don’t benefit from that and the people who are working full time and living in poverty certainly don’t benefit from it,” Jenkins said.

Commissioners are expected to vote on the plan next Tuesday. The other three Democratic Commissioners had no big complaints about the changes. 

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