NEWS 8 EXCLUSIVE
DALLAS — Security officers are the first line of defense inside the Crowley Courthouse in Dallas. For this critical job, Jerome Reed is paid an hourly wage of $8.
Full-time Dallas County employees make a minimum of $10.25 an hour, but Reed works for a company contracted by the county. That company doesn't have to meet the county minimum.
"We need to extend that to the contract employees here in the county,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins, who is leading a charge to increase the minimum wage for anyone who does work for the county.
Nationally, the minimum wage is currently set at $7.25 an hour. President Barack Obama recently hiked the minimum pay for federal workers to $10.10.
Since the year began, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia have also raised their rates. The city of Seattle voted this week to increase its minimum wage to $15 an hour.
"It's the right thing to do,” Judge Jenkins said. "Not just for the people who would get a raise; it's the right thing to do for all of us, because when more people participate in the recovery and more people do better, we all do better."
Dallas County currently spends more in uncompensated care at Parkland Memorial Hospital than all other county services combined. Increasing the minimum wage could make it possible for some of those people to qualify for subsidies and purchase their own health insurance plans.
Jenkins and District Attorney Craig Watkins are sending a letter to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott asking for a legal opinion about whether Dallas County can "set a living wage higher than the state-mandated minimum wage for contractor employees."
Watkins said the increase could actually reduce crime.
"You will have people that work 40 hours a week that are out there committing crimes because, well, that 40-hour-a-week job is not actually paying for their living expenses,” he said. "We want to make sure that there's a living wage. It will reduce crime and give us the ability to make Dallas safer."
The proposed increase would affect several hundred county-contracted employees, including cleaning crews, some food service workers, security guards, and metal detector screeners.
Jerome Reed said two extra dollars an hour could make a world of difference.
"It would help my daughter and myself, because I'm a single parent," he said.
Reed says his daughter currently qualifies for Medicaid. He can’t afford health insurance for himself. A pay raise could change that.
The attorney general is expected to issue an opinion in within two months. Then Commissioners will vote on extending the minimum wage to $10.25 for everyone who works for Dallas County.