Three Guilford County commissioners – Democrats Skip Alston, Carolyn Coleman and Carlvena Foster – are pushing hard for Guilford County to do something some other local governments across the country have done: Raise the pay of all employees to a minimum of $15 an hour.

Those commissioners have been arguing for the minimum for over a year and that debate ramped up this month since Guilford County has been making changes to its pay structure. The three argue that it’s the county’s duty to pay all of its employees a livable wage and they say that paying less than $15 an hour leaves some employees in economic peril.

Last week, the Guilford County Board of Commissioners voted to approve a new employee pay plan – one that provides more money for many employees and addresses other pay issues – however, the proposed $15 an hour minimum was left on the cutting room floor despite the objections of some Democratic commissioners.

According to Guilford County Manager Marty Lawing, the matter is complicated by the fact that raising the minimum wage to $15 would create the problem of salary “compression” in which there would be little to no difference between the lowest paid brand new county employees and those who have earned pay increases over time.

Lawing said the new pay plan does move in that direction.

“It moves a lot of people closer to 15,” he said, adding that it didn’t raise all county employees to $15 an hour.

“The main reason is because of the compression it would create with the people that are 15 and a quarter or 15.50,” Lawing said of the problem with a $15 an hour minimum.

Alston said that this is a move the county needs to make despite potential compression issues.

“I always say that a carton of milk costs the same for the person making $12 an hour and the people making $15,” Alston said. “I don’t want the people making under $15 an hour to be penalized because of some other complicated situation.”

Coleman said that, even given considerations such as compression, Guilford County should certainly be able to implement a $15 an hour wage minimum in steps over a number of years even if it can’t make the move all at once.

The county currently has some employees making under $15 an hour in some unexpected areas. Guilford County Emergency Services Director Jim Albright, for instance, said that he has some workers in life-saving jobs that aren’t making $15 an hour.

“The majority of my EMT’s are making on the lower end of their salary scale and they start at 12.18 cents [an hour],” Albright said.

Commissioner Hank Henning, a Republican, said that addressing the issue is a lot more complicated than just bluntly putting in a $15 an hour minimum wage.   He said that it, for instance, might be more important to raise the wage of emergency workers in those critical positions but not doing so in other positions. He said it would be rational to use more nuanced moves than just lifting all employees to that $15 an hour level in one fell swoop.