Community members hold C.O.P.S signage. Photo by Scott Ball.
Community members hold C.O.P.S signage during a wage change press conference in 2015. Photo by Scott Ball.

Bexar County will pay lowest-wage employees a minimum of $13 an hour starting on Oct. 1, the beginning of the next fiscal year, a raise of $1.53 an hour over the current minimum wage.

The minimum wage in Texas is the same as the federal minimum wage of $7.25 and hour. There are 26 states that pay a higher state minimum wage than the federal wage. Click here for a chart of the 50 states and their minimum wages.

Communities Organized for Public Service (COPS) and Metro Alliance, or COPS/Metro, called on county leaders to join church members for a living wage campaign at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Wednesday.

A vintage C.O.P.S. button is pinned on a members shirt. Photo by Scott Ball.
A vintage C.O.P.S. button is pinned on a member’s shirt. Photo by Scott Ball.

A living wage is defined as the income necessary to meet basic needs without depending on public subsidies. The Federal Poverty Level for a family of four is $11.47 an hour, or $24,250 a year, which is the current living wage paid to City and County employees. The living wage is determined by the cost of living in a particular location, and living a paycheck-to-paycheck existence. According to COPS/Metro, a family of four living on less than $14.91 an hour qualifies them for food stamps, so the $11.47 wage is not providing families with an adequate income to live without government assistance.

“COPS/Metro leaders believe that our public sector should lead the way in raising the wages in San Antonio,” stated a COPS/Metro position paper. “Living wages help our families obtain good housing, healthy food, medical care, and education for their children plus other opportunities to live life to the fullest.”

In May of this year, the City of Los Angeles voted to raise its minimum wage from $9 to $15 an hour by 2020. Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle have approved similar increases, and more cities like New York City and Washington D.C. are considering similar moves.

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Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff and Commissioners Paul Elizondo (Precinct 2) and Tommy Calvert (Precinct 4) met at the church to disclose the $13 an hour wage increase. COPS/Metro initially proposed a $15 an hour minimum wage, but Elizondo said such an increase will take time.

“The $15 an hour is going to be hard to get to, it’s going to take at least three years,” Elizondo said.

COPS/Metro recommends the minimum wage to increase to $13.76 an hour during the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and up to $14.91 an hour during the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The organization also requested that outsourced service jobs pay their employees at least the current $11.47 an hour minimum wage. Some of the positions that the County outsources are janitorial, cafeteria, maintenance, and security jobs.

Check out the living wage of counties across the nation using this living wage calculator.

“We will tell our contractors that their game is going to change,” Judge Wolff said. “I have stopped numerous people who work for a contractor in our building doing maintenance work, and cleaning, and I can tell you that several of them are making $7.50 an hour.”

Calvert said the Government should be a stepping stone for people to improve their quality of life, instead of having it lowered.

“We obviously need to be doing ventures like this because if at some point we don’t pay people well, it ends up coming back to the taxpayers in another form in terms of being publicly subsidized in welfare benefits,” he said. “We don’t want to be carrying that legacy on.”

Councilmembers Shirley Gonzales (D5) and Rey Saldaña (D4) showed up to the church on Wednesday to support the wage hike.

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“This neighborhood would benefit so significantly from a wage increase like we’re talking about today,” Gonzales said. “In District 5 the average household income is around $12,000 a year, maybe a little less. With what we’re proposing here, it could bring the average household income up to $32,000 a year.”

Saldaña said one in five San Antonians live in poverty, and as a city leader, he hopes to set an example for the people of San Antonio to take action to move this proposal forward. “At the end of the day, it’s not about the people in power, it’s about the power of the people,” he said.

Judge Wolff said the private sector also is dipping its toes into wage hikes. Walmart, the nation’s largest employer, will raise its full-time and part-time employees’ pay to $10 an hour by February 2016.

County Judge Nelson Wolff speaks with a community member. Photo by Scott Ball.
County Judge Nelson Wolff speaks with a community member. Photo by Scott Ball.

“We’ve all been a little critical of Walmart over the years,” Wolff said. “We know that they don’t treat their employees the best way, but even they are stepping up.”

In April, McDonald’s announced it would pay its fast food workers $1 more than the local minimum wage. Aetna Insurance came out of left field when it announced it would pay its workers $16 an hour.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the City of San Antonio would increase its living wage. Bexar County will be the only local entity increasing its living wage at this time. 

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Joan Vinson

Former Rivard Report Assistant Editor Joan Vinson is a San Antonio native who graduated from The University of Texas with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She's a yoga fanatic and an adventurer at heart....