Oakland County Republicans, Democrats agree to give county workers raise, $15 minimum wage
By Bill Laitner
Sept. 26, 2019 @6:00 a.m. ET
Michigan’s richest county is gradually shifting — politically — from red to purple, with blue in sight.
On Wednesday, a slim Democratic majority on the countywide board carried on a bipartisan tradition established under longtime county executive L. Brooks Patterson, the county’s Republican standard-bearer until his death on Aug. 3. They lent their votes to a unanimous approval of the county budget.
More significant? Democrats convinced most of their Republican counterparts to join them in passing a $15 minimum wage for county workers.
The board gave its unanimous approval to the county’s first annual budget measure, which provides a 2% raise for all of the nearly 5,000 county employees. It was the first budget to pass under newly appointed County Executive Dave Coulter, the first Democrat ever to hold that post in Oakland County.
But to some observers’ surprise, the Democrats also were able to lead most of the GOP members away from their party’s conventional opposition toward a $15-per-hour minimum. Although it applies only to county workers, the goal of the measure is not only to make county jobs more attractive but also to set an example for local governments and private-sector employers across southeast Michigan.
In choosing $15, they’ve joined the national conversation about raising the status of low-income Americans that Democrats have voiced all year, through union supporters and in the campaigns of many Democratic presidential hopefuls.
As with the county’s electorate as a whole, the power shift atop county government has been gradual, and the margin for Democrats is super-slim. On the Oakland County Board of Commissioners, Democrats enjoy just a one-vote margin, with 11 Democrats and 10 Republicans. Still, that was enough to entice some Republicans to the side of a very traditionally Democratic position: a minimum wage for county workers that’s considerably higher than Michigan’s minimum of $9.45.
The budget resolution covers fiscal years 2020 through 2022. In a news release, the board’s communications staff described the effort as “the result of an extensive, collaborative and bipartisan effort,” one in which the board’s leaders from both parties worked closely with Coulter.
“We’ve approved a budget that fixes more local roads than ever, protects our water, improves health care, and helps grow our local economy,” said Dave Woodward, a Democrat from Royal Oak, and leader of the board’s Democrats.
The Republican leader had equally warm words.
“I would like to congratulate the administration and the board on adopting a budget that is consistent with past financial practices, and that is responsible from an overall spending perspective,” said Mike Gingell, a Republican from Lake Orion.
The $15 minimum wage for county workers was supported by key Republicans because it will make county jobs attractive “in this booming job market in Oakland County,” said Phil Weipert, a Republican from South Lyon.
“We all realized that the public sector has been traditionally behind the private sector in wages,” Weipert said, citing examples of a fast-food entry-level job paying more than $16 in Oakland County, and “someone selling doughnuts getting $15 an hour.”
The proposal, which was first introduced by board Democrats in May, will raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour for all full-time employees and for part-time workers performing the same work. Officials believe that about 230 county workers stand to benefit. Commissioner Angela Powell, a Democrat from Pontiac, said, “We are leading by example.”
“Raising wages for workers who are at the bottom rung of the economic ladder has long been a priority for us,” Woodward added. “Economic opportunity should be afforded to everyone who works.”