Amidst the COVID pandemic, there are strong pressures to raise wages as government and businesses seek to draw back workers, who have stayed home. We see this in actions on prevailing wages and on minimum wages. Just last week, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer reinstated the prevailing wage for contractors working on State of Michigan projects. The prevailing wage is the average wage rate paid to groups of who do similar jobs/occupations; these wages are typically driven by union contracts. The purpose of a prevailing wage is to ensure companies that bid on government contracts don’t provide a low bid to the detriment of their employees. The new prevailing wage policy, which was originally repealed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2018, will impact only state contracts and projects. Federal projects are already subject to prevailing wage policies and local governments must implement their own policies to ensure fair wages are met.
In Michigan, the prevailing wage policy impacts occupations ranging from asbestos and lead abatement laborers to steel work engineers to roofers, and beyond. A list of occupations and their associated prevailing wages by county in Michigan in 2018 can be found here.
For reference on the difference of a prevailing wage by county, a bricklayer working on a state project in 2018 would have made the below rate, at a minimum:
- Livingston County: $54.12
- Macomb County: $52.43
- Monroe County: $52.43
- Oakland County: $52.43
- St. Clair County: $52.34
- Washtenaw County: $54.12
- Wayne County: $52.43
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean wage for a brick mason in 2020 was $28.09. Of course, this mean wage accounts for every state in the country, where minimum and living wages vary, along with the cost of living.
In Michigan, the minimum wage is $9.65 an hour and the living wage for one adult with no children is $13.63. And, while Whitmer’s prevailing wage policy will impact state contracts, an increased minimum wage, state or nation-wide, would allow for greater economic stability for a large portion of the population and give way to economic growth.
An increase to the minimum wage requires policy changes, and inherent political tug-of-wars. And, while such actions should still be pursued and hopefully implemented, amidst the political turmoil that will likely occur during these discussions, businesses and local governments can implement their own wage policies. In Michigan, Oakland County and Oak Park both have policies where the minimum wage for their organizations is $15 an hour. Ann Arbor has a living wage policy for its employees and in its contracting ordinance, meaning the City must extend contracts to companies that pay their employees a living wage, at minimum. The Mayor of Jackson also just introduced an ordinance for a $15.68 an hour minimum wage rate for City employees and any contractor, vendor or grantee of City funds. The ordinance also proposes a $13.32 an hour minimum wage rate for employers that provide health care to employees.
The 2021 living wages for Southeastern Michigan, by county are:
- Livingston County: $13.91
- Macomb County: $13.78
- Monroe County: $13.67
- Oakland County: $13.78
- St. Clair County: $13.78
- Washtenaw County: $15.62
- Wayne County: $13.78
The above policies show how the State of Michigan and some local municipalities are making progress toward paying employees a true living wage and better aligning wages with salaries. However, the work must continue to ensure that all those employed and seeking employment earn wages that allow them to live a life above the poverty rate, a life in a city, state and country where disparities continue to shrink.