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Local employers announce pay increases, economist professor says it's long overdue

Posted at 6:37 PM, Nov 12, 2021

MILWAUKEE — Earlier this week, both Advocate Aurora Health and Milwaukee Department of Public Works announced pay increases. This comes as many employers continue to struggle with the labor shortage.

UW-Milwaukee Associate Professor Avik Chakrabarti said pay increases have been needed across the board for quite some time.

"It's long overdue and workers deserve it, because they are the backbone," Chakrabarti said.

Advocate Aurora said it's raising its minimum wage from $15 an hour to $18 an hour. Overall, that's a $93 million dollar investment by the company. Nearly 11,000 employees will see their wages go up the $3, and an additional 20,000 employees already making $18 an hour will also see increases.

Milwaukee DPW said a pay increase was approved for Operational Driver Workers. That position will see a pay increase from $20.13 an hour to $22.79 for residents. The non-resident rate will increase from $19.54 to $22.13. Application are open at Milwaukee.gov/jobs.

"We've done that to be more market competitive," said DPW spokesperson Brian DeNeve.

Operational Driver Workers primarily work within sanitation, but often help with clearing snow in the winter. The position also requires a commercial driver's license.

"There's been challenges throughout the years, especially this year, when it comes to finding candidates or even retaining candidates that have CDLs, DeNeve said.

Chakrabarti said increasing pay is helpful in addressing the labor shortage, but during the pandemic work environment has become just as important (like remote work and flex schedules).

"The fact that workers are increasingly willing to work from elsewhere tells you that the environment is not conducive," Chakrabarti said.

He also mentioned it's important that other Wisconsin employers follow suit in raising minimum wages to avoid a brain drain in the state.

"Students are studying in different Wisconsin colleges, but we cannot retain them in the form of valuable employees," Chakrabarti said.

According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, increasing wages can also reduce racial pay inequality.

Data from 2019 shows that Hispanic workers are paid 11 percent less than their white counterparts, and Black workers are paid nearly 15 percent less than their white counterparts.

The reports says a national minimum wage increase to $15 an hour would raise wages for 1 in 3 Black workers and 1 in 4 Hispanic workers.

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