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EDINBURG — To raucous applause during a meeting Tuesday night, the city council here unanimously approved a resolution to raise the minimum wage of city staffers and contractors to $15 an hour.

The decision comes nearly six months to the day after a federal judge ordered the city to place the resolution before the Edinburg City Council for consideration.

And it comes after years of efforts by local community advocacy group La Union Del Pueblo Entero, or LUPE, who worked in conjunction with Ground Game Texas, a grassroots organization that works to implement progressive policies in cities across the state.

“The city voted to accept the resolution and we are excited because the city is finally listening to its constituents,” Michael Mireles, LUPE’s director of civic engagement, said shortly after the council approved the initiative.

Ground Game Texas and LUPE Votes, a political arm of LUPE, have been working for over a year to put the $15 minimum wage proposal before the city council — or to have voters decide via a referendum.

Using professional petition circulators, Ground Game was able to collect more than 2,000 signatures from Edinburg residents in favor of a $15 minimum wage for city employees.

Ground Game submitted the petition to the city last April. However, it was later rejected by Edinburg City Secretary Clarice Y. Balderas, who said during a June 2022 city council meeting that the petition failed to meet certain requirements outlined in the city charter.

Days later, Ground Game and LUPE Votes took Edinburg to federal court, claiming that the charter requirements that prompted the petition rejection violated the petitioners’ First Amendment rights.

Earlier this year, a federal judge agreed and ordered the city to verify Ground Game’s petition and place the initiative on a meeting agenda.

Months went by with no apparent action.

So, last month, Mireles and other members of LUPE spoke up during a council meeting. They criticized the city’s failure to place the item on a meeting agenda, despite the March 9 federal court order.

Members of La Union Del Pueblo Entero stand in support of their colleagues as they deliver public comments urging Edinburg to implement a $15 minimum wage for city workers and contractors during an Edinburg City Council meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

But city officials countered assertions that Edinburg was failing to comply with the court order.

Edinburg City Attorney Omar Ochoa said he and other officials had been meeting with the community advocates to work on a path toward implementing a $15 minimum wage.

And indeed, though the council unanimously passed the resolution Tuesday, the new minimum wage won’t go into effect immediately.

Under the terms of the resolution, the city will work to implement the new minimum wage by 2026.

“(T)he City of Edinburg is committed to its employees and is therefore committed to use its best efforts to reach a minimum base wage of $15.00 per hour by fiscal year 2026-2027 …” the resolution reads, in part.

The minimum wage increase is projected to raise the city’s annual operations expenses by $5 million, according to the resolution.

Part of the reason for the delay in implementation is so that the city can be equitable to all its employees, Mayor Ramiro Garza Jr. said.

“As we make adjustments to employees at minimum wage, we have to make adjustments to other staff that … are going to be impacted,” Garza said Wednesday.

While the city increases the base pay of its lowest wage earners, officials want to make sure that other employees aren’t negatively impacted by wage compression as a result.

“We just wanted to be very fair and equitable in how we implement this. And I think this period of time will allow us to get to the goal of having every employee meet the minimum wage of $15 per hour,” the mayor said.

Tania A. Chavez Camacho, executive director of La Union Del Pueblo Entero, calls for the city of Edinburg heed a federal court order to place a $15 minimum wage proposal up for consideration by the Edinburg City Council during a council meeting at Edinburg City Hall on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2023. (Dina Arévalo | [email protected])

The resolution timeline also gives Edinburg a chance to complete a compensation study that is currently in progress.

Garza said the study will give the city a better picture of how its wages stack up with those of other cities in the region.

Currently, the lowest paid employees at the city make $12.21 per hour in base pay. But, combined with fringe benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off, their “overall compensation package,” is about $15.91 per hour, according to the mayor.

The city council also plans to approve a 3% pay increase for all non-civil service employees later this month as part of its budget.

That will bump the lowest wage earners up to a base wage of about $12.58 per hour.

Garza said the new minimum wage initiative will directly impact about one-third of Edinburg’s employees.

For LUPE and Ground Game, Tuesday’s unanimous vote was some long overdue good news.

“It’s a step towards the right direction,” said Lorena Ramirez, a Ground Game organizer.

“It says to me that they listened to the constituents and I’m happy to see that,” she said.