Dallas County has been considering an increase in the minimum wage to $10 an hour for county contract workers, and was planning a vote for this month. That was before Attorney General Greg Abbott weighed in.
This week Abbott issued an opinion that Dallas County’s proposal to raise the minimum wage would violate state labor law. Texas law dictates that the state controls the minimum wage, and local jurisdictions cannot overrule it. The county claims there is an exception for government contractors; indeed, Texas’s minimum wage law states that “a minimum wage established by a governmental entity that applies to a contract or agreement… entered into by a governmental entity and a private entity” supersedes. Nonetheless, Abbott claimed “a court would likely conclude” that the county doesn’t have the authority to raise the minimum wage.
Though the exemption for government contractors seems fairly clear, Abbott’s opinion is making Dallas County reconsider its attempt to make life a little bit better for low-wage workers. “I don’t know what we are going to do yet,” said Dallas County Administrator Darryl Martin. “We are going to have to discuss it.”
Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who initially raised the idea of the wage increase for contractors, said he believes everyone who works for the county should be paid a living wage. While all county employees already make over $10 and hour, many janitors, security guards and other contractors are paid the state minimum wage of $7.25. “People that work full-time should be able to pay for life’s necessities and pass on some optimism to their children,” he said.
But Abbott doesn’t feel the same way, and his opposition to raising the minimum wage extends far beyond this particular case. Abbott has repeatedly come out against increasing the minimum wage, claiming it’s a “job killer.” That’s despite the fact that in the thirteen states that increased their wages at the beginning of 2014, there has actually been more job growth than in the states that have not.
Abbott also believes that Texans are already being paid enough. “Abbott suggests the ‘free marketplace’ in Texas does just fine on wages, citing two examples,” the AFL-CIO reported. “First, ‘people who work at McDonald’s who make $15 an hour;’ and second, bingo callers in Midland who make $18 an hour.” So because some low-skilled workers that Greg Abbott happens to have encountered make a decent living, he believes we don’t need a higher minimum wage for the millions of Texas who have to work three jobs to get by.
Texas has the highest number of minimum wage workers in the country. Increasing the minimum wage to $10 would benefit almost 3 million workers in our state alone. Despite this, we already know that Greg Abbott has no interest in raising the minimum wage statewide. But apparently he will even stand in the way of the rare progressive locality trying to make life a little bit better for a handful of low-wage workers.