Saturday, January 14, 2017

Texas Cities Can Make a Living Wage a Reality

Walmart, McDonald’s and other low wage employers not only take advantage of their employees they also take advantage of us the tax payer even if we don’t shop their. They do it by paying wages so low that their employees qualify for and collect federal benefits like housing assistance, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program aka food stamps. That’s because the federal minimum wage is no where near a living wage. Even in low cost areas of low cost state like Texas a 40 hour a week job at minimum wage won’t pay rent, utilities and put food on the table let alone address health care and other living expenses.

I’ll be you’re as sick as I am of our tax dollars subsidizing their profits but with the election of Donald Trump and the continuing Republican majorities in the House and Senate it is unlikely that the federal minimum wage will be raised in the next four years. The Texas governor and legislature are also Republican controlled leaving little chance that Texas will raise its minimum wage. Worse state law prohibits cities from raising their own minimum wage rates.

Cities like San Antonio and San Marcos have taken action to work around this ridiculous prohibition. In San Antonio city employees are paid a minimum of $13 per hour and the city requires all contractors to pay their employees a minimum of $13 per hour as well. That leaves an awful lot of people out of the benefit of higher wages but it’s a start. In San Marcos the city recently passed an ordinance that offers tax benefits to employers who pay at least $15 per hour.

There is nothing stopping the city of Seguin or the Seguin ISD from setting a minimum wage for all contractors doing business with them. There are other ways to increase the value of low wage workers earnings such as requiring that all employers in the city provide five days paid sick leave for every employee. In reality that actually benefits everyone since then the sick person doesn’t infect the rest of the staff or their customers. I don’t know about you but I prefer the restaurant worker handling my food to be healthy so they don’t contaminate my meal and make me sick too.

Walmart, McDonalds and other large chains often manage labor costs by shifting schedules around so that employees don’t have same schedule from one week to the next making it very difficult to plan child care, meet with children’s teachers, or see a doctor. Fast food chains are notorious for requiring their employees to work a few hours then punch out for three or four hours and then work a few more, or simply sending employees home early often preventing them from working even close to full time hours. Cities like Seguin can require that all employers in the city limits provide clarity and certainty to workers schedules.

There are ways we can make a difference at the local level but it won’t happen if you and I don’t demand it of our local officials. We must speak to our city council members and the trustees of our school districts urging them to take the actions they can to make our communities better places to work and live.

Published in the Seguin Gazette January 6, 2017

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