Democrats, union leaders and activists revived an effort at the Capitol Thursday to raise the state’s minimum wage, which hasn’t changed since 2009, from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.10 per hour.
That nearly 40 percent increase would raise hourly wages for about 2.4 million workers, according to Ann Beeson, executive director for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a left-leaning think tank.
State Representative Senfronia Thompson, a veteran Houston Democrat who attempted to pass the same measure last session, said she rejects “the misconceptions… about how raising the minimum wage is bad for the economy.”
Thompson, who is carrying House Bill 937, which would raise the state’s hourly minimum wage to $10.10 over five years, said the move would instead jump-start the Texas economy.
With the same goal of boosting wages for the lowest-paid workers in the state, other legislators — including state Representative Roberto Alonzo, D-Dallas, and Rep. Ron Reynolds, D-Missouri City — are carrying bills that push for a $15-per-hour minimum wage.
Other proposals would allow local governments in Texas to set their own minimum wage. Beeson said that Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio would take advantage of such a law; all four have raised public employee wages, which cities can set.
Ruben Alvarado, a 33-year-old minimum wage worker in Austin, doesn’t really care which particular proposal passes. He just wants a raise. In May, he took a job at a Popeye’s on Riverside Drive in Austin — a location that gained some notoriety last year. When Alvarado started, the restaurant didn’t have working air conditioning, a borderline abomination in scorching Central Texas.
The restaurant wasn’t exactly pleasant for customers. But the kitchen, with its deep fryers, was just hell, Alvarado said.
“Kitchens are hot; that’s reasonable, but the air conditioning didn’t work at all,” he said. “You should be able to step away from the fryer and go to another area to cool off. There were no cool areas.”
Alvarado said he was working two fast-food jobs at the time. He worked 40 hours a week at Popeye’s and his paycheck, which came every other week, was between $400 and $500 after taxes, he said. He was paying $600 to rent a room.
Unhappy with their working conditions and management’s failure to respond to their complaints, Alvarado and his co-workers went on a one-day strike in August, prompting Popeye’s to fix the air conditioning.
Alvarado has since left Popeye’s. He’s searching for another job, possibly as a cook in a hotel, where he might be able to make more than minimum wage. He still worries about his former co-workers and the nearly 300,000 Texans trying to make it on $7.25 an hour or less.
“I can’t believe how many workers there are paying rent in this city on minimum wage,” he said. “They’re living five or six people in single bedrooms. They have to.”