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Rep. Veasey Clocks In At Job Sites As He Campaigns For Higher Wages

As the congressman for a district with unemployment that's higher than the state average, and income that's lower, Rep. Marc Veasey has made jobs his top priority.  Not just creating jobs, but raising salaries for the people who live in Congressional District 33 which stretches from West Fort Worth to West Dallas.

On the construction site for the Dallas Horseshoe highway project bulldozers move mountains of sand and rock while the thermometer hovers around 97 degrees.

This is where Rep. Veasey has chosen to work for a few hours.  To better understand what contractors face and what employees are going through.

“When I’m talking about transportation in Washington, D.C., I might be able to relate certain stories by actually being right here on hand and seeing how it works,” says Veasey.

“For them (employees) to be out here in the heat and for me to have a good understanding of their working conditions I think it’s important for me to be out here.   I’m pretty psyched about it,” he says.

Veasey, a Democrat with no Republican opposition this fall, spends a day each month working at a different job in his district.  He’s delivered Fed-Ex packages, served barbecue, built fans.

Today he’s putting on a hard hat and steel-toed boots so he can mix concrete.

The process starts in an air conditioned shack where a technician generates a computer formula to blend four yards of Class A cement.  Veasey presses a button and the materials begin to flow into a rotating drum.

Outside he tests the consistency of his cement, and gets a thumbs up from supervisors.  Then the congressman moves to a control panel where he releases a billowing vapor cloud by adding the liquid nitrogen needed to cool the cement.

Dan Young, one of the project directors, says employees at this construction site work some long hours.

“A typical day is between ten to twelve hours. When it gets real hot… the overtime, while we like it, we try to limit it.  It just burns the guys out.”

Credit Shelley Kofler / KERA News
Rep. Veasey talks to Theresa Granberry about driving a cement truck.

But for the guys and women out here the pay is pretty good. 

Theresa Granberry, a mother of four, earns $17 an hour driving a cement truck.

“Women, they think this job is hard.  The only thing is you get a little dirty.  If you’re not afraid of that it’s not hard at all,” she says.    

At $17 an hour Granberry by herself earns more than many families in Veasey’s district. The median household income in District 33 is $33,411, which well below the state median of $51,563.  Many of his constituents work for minimum wage.

Here’s a state-by-state look at the minimum wage.

Veasey is co-sponsoring legislation to raise the federal minimum from $7.25 an hour to $10.10.  

But after he hangs up his boots at the construction site, he heads to a community meeting where union members and academics conclude Veasey’s bill has little chance of passing in the conservative U.S. House.

Credit Shelley Kofler / KERA News
Bubba Washington earns minimum wage at a college radio station and works two additional jobs to pay for school. He attended Rep. Veasey's meeting.

Opponents tend to feel like Bill Hammond, who heads the Texas Association of Business.

“For us, minimum wage is more like an entry level or training wage that allows employers to hire unskilled workers and take a chance on them,” says Hammond. “By raising the minimum wage we believe the employers will be less likely to hire that kid and turn that job into one that’s done by a machine.”   

Labor organizer Jeremy Hendricks says there are a lot of minimum wage workers who aren’t kids.  He tells those at Veasey’s meeting the best path for overcoming that opposition is to press for change at the state and local levels.

“I mean we’re at the point where 22 states have a higher minimum wage. There are 18 more considering it this year and 16 are expected to pass.  So more than half the states by the end of this year will have a higher (than the federal) minimum wage.”

Many cities have also adopted higher minimum pay.  In Dallas, where city employees earn at least $10.62 an hour, Mayor Mike Rawlings wants the council to consider a requirement that city contractors pay above the minimum, too.

Veasey believes more can also be done to increase pay through training, especially for single mothers. He points to Theresa Granberry who drives the cement truck.

“She’s very inspiring to me and I think we need to do a better job of letting women know these jobs are available.”

Veasey says he’s not giving up on his legislation that would increase minimum pay. But he’ll also be looking ways to connect good jobs with good workers as he clocks in at his next assignment.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.