NPR for North Texas
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

North Texas counties offering retention bonuses to compete with private companies like Amazon

Amazon logo in the company's New York office lobby
AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File
Local governments are offering retention bonuses to keep their employees from leaving for jobs with private sector companies like Amazon.

Workers in North Texas have more options now than they’ve had in recent decades, leading local governments scrambling to appeal to prospective —and current — employees.

“We want to do good business in Dallas County. We want to help our customers,” Dallas County Tax Assessor/Collector John Ames said. “But we can’t do it unless we have employees.”

To maintain a functioning workforce of around 6,500 full-time equivalent positions, Dallas County is spending $40 million on retention bonuses. The funds, approved by county commissioners on Tuesday, come from the federal American Rescue Plan (ARP) Act of 2021.

Eligible full-time employees will get $6,000 each and eligible part-timers $1,500, disbursed over three payments that conclude in December. Elected officials are not eligible for the bonuses, nor are contract workers, temporary workers or independent contractors.

Tarrant County recently approved retention bonuses of $4,900 for eligible employees, mostly from the ARP. The City of Plano may soon approve raises for employees in the upcoming fiscal year.

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent scarcity of workers has sent all types of employers looking for creative ways to attract and keep people. Jobs at Amazon can come with sign-on bonuses of $3,000, the company said.

“What we’re finding is where we have more entry-level, lower skill positions, the attrition skews really high,” Dallas County human resources director Robert B. Wilson said.

The county-wide, average attrition rate is almost 15%. Some departments have over 20% attrition.

Ames told KERA that he should have 150 front line employees providing county residents with services, but right now he only has between 85 and 100. Twenty new people are currently onboarding in his department, a process that takes over a month. Ames expects a quarter of those will not stay past the training period because they can make higher wages elsewhere.

Front-line staff at the Dallas County tax office have a set wage of $19 per hour.

Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price said he was happy to provide bonuses for the “lion’s share” of county staff who work hard but bemoaned that some “slackers” would also get the bonuses.

To that point, Ames said, bad employees are “better than not having anybody right now.”

Also on Tuesday, commissioners approved other policies aimed at worker retention and hiring.

Several deal with corrections officers. Now, the sheriff’s office can place experienced jailers at a pay level that matches their level of experience, rather than at step one. There is also a new shift differential for officers who work from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. And parking fees have been zeroed out for detention officers working the overnight.

Those changes cost the county about $1.7 million per year.

The commissioners will also allow Wilson, as human resources director, to get temporary authority to adjust hiring practices if they are holding back the county from hiring. Wilson said this won’t affect any qualifications for law enforcement personnel.

He’ll initially work on making it easier to hire entry level clerks at the tax, elections, district clerk, and county clerk offices.

“We’re not very nimble, when it comes to being competitive,” Wilson said.

Bret Jaspers is a reporter for KERA. His stories have aired nationally on the BBC, NPR’s newsmagazines, and APM’s Marketplace. He collaborated on the series Cash Flows, which won a 2020 Sigma Delta Chi award for Radio Investigative Reporting. He's a member of Actors' Equity, the professional stage actors union.