City Policy and City Contracts

Jun 19, 2021 | City Council

This week’s Council agenda (June 21, 2021) includes a contract that was postponed from our last meeting, because members of Council wanted to ask more questions about it. Agenda item DS-1 is a contract for temporary staffing services in our Public Works Department — it raises concerns because of established City policies for labor and employment.

DS-1 (21-0663) Resolution to Award a Contract to Manpower, Inc. of Southeastern Michigan for Temporary Staffing Services for Public Works (RFP # 21- 09)

For many years now, the City has established and re-affirmed policies in support of decent wages and union labor.


In 2001, Ann Arbor City Council passed a Living Wage ordinance, which establishes a baseline for compensation when the City hires any business to provide significant services to the City. The ordinance requires that employers providing services to the City or recipients of grants for financial assistance (in amounts greater than $10,000 in a twelve- month period of time) pay their employees who are working on the City project or grant, a minimum level of compensation.

This wage requirement is written into every contract that comes to Council for approval. The ordinance includes specific hourly rate minimums, which are regularly updated and adjusted as cost of living (COL) increases. Specific hourly wage requirements for 2021-2022:

The current Living Wage is defined as $14.05/hour for those employers that provide employee health care (as defined in the Ordinance at Section 1:815 Sec. 1 (a)), or no less than $15.66/hour for those employers that do not provide health care.

The City is exempt from its own Living Wage ordinance, in order to staff various seasonal and temporary jobs. For example, a number of jobs this summer season at Fuller Park, Buhr Park, Huron Hills Golf Course, and Veterans Memorial Park Pool were posted with pay as little as $9.87 an hour.

Some might argue that these jobs in our parks system are mostly (or exclusively) filled by younger people (not independent). Just last year, though, the Wheeler Service Center listed an “AFSCME Like Temp Job” for pay at $13.33 an hour (March 31, 2020). At that time, the prescribed hourly Living Wage for Ann Arbor was $13.61 (with health benefits) and $15.18 (w/out health benefits).


The City of Ann Arbor supports and promotes fair employment practices. Candidates for our local elected offices compete for endorsements from labor organizations because this is an issue that matters. It is illegal to prefer unionized employers but the City can prefer employers who have employment practices of the kind often found in unionized companies. Our community believes in the right of workers to organize, negotiating fair wages and benefits. When the city uses private contractors, we cannot require that those contractors hire only unionized labor. Since 2012, Michigan state law has prohibited municipalities like Ann Arbor from simply requiring that our private contractors employ union labor; a government unit

shall not, in any bid specifications, project agreements, or other controlling documents:

(a) Require or prohibit a bidder, offeror, contractor, or subcontractor from entering into or adhering to an agreement with 1 or more labor organizations in regard to that project or a related construction project.

(b) Otherwise discriminate against a bidder, offeror, contractor, or subcontractor for becoming or remaining or refusing to become or remain a signatory to, or for adhering or refusing to adhere to, an agreement with 1 or more labor organizations in regard to that project or a related construction project.

MCL 408.875

We cannot explicitly require that a private contractor employ union labor, but we can show preference to bids that include fair employment practices. In 2020, City Council passed an ordinance to do just that, by expanding our definition of a “responsible bidder.” Since passing that ordinance, any “responsible bidder” on a City contract must provide significant documentation of worker compensation (relative to experience), licensing, insurance, as well as safety-training programs and registered apprenticeship programs. These are terms typically included in union-negotiated contracts.

Three months ago, Council revisited the question of how we define a “responsible bidder,” consistent with these 2020 ordinance amendments. City staff recommended that Council accept a bid on a contract that seemed not to meet our definition of a “responsible bidder.” That contractor failed to provide much of the documentation required in our ordinance and – compared to another contractor’s bid – offered fewer of the preferred terms (e.g. a registered apprenticeship program). Ultimately, Council voted to substitute one contract for another, favoring a slightly more expensive bid that used union labor (3/15/21).


City jobs are typically union jobs. When the City has regular, ongoing labor tasks, there is a value to putting those jobs on the City payroll, with union-negotiated contracts. A private contractor hired by the City to do work for the City is more likely to use non-union labor or define jobs as ‘temporary’ (without benefits) rather than long-term (with benefits).

In 2018, Council passed a resolution regarding solid waste services and asserted a preference for directly employing workers in long-term, rather than temporary jobs. From that 2018 resolution:

RESOLVED, That City Council proclaims its opposition to privatization for solid waste services not currently performed by an outside contractor

RESOLVED, That City Council directs the City Administrator to end the practice of using temporary employees on a long-term basis to forestall the hiring of permanent employees unless and until the City Council expressly approves such action.

That particular resolution is relevant to this week’s agenda item DS-1.


Agenda item DS-1 is a three year contract for temporary staffing services to “support seasonal workload fluctuation and to temporarily fill gaps.” The job descriptions for temporary staffing:

  • Operating light to heavy equipment and tools to maintain and repair streets and pot holes
  • Installing, repairing, maintaining, inspecting and removing water distribution and collection system components
  • Driving and operating solid waste trucks

This week, Council will discuss if and how that third job description might contradict City policies approved in 2018. The temporary employees in this contract will fill a need for up to 5500 labor hours. In answer to questions about this contract, staff explain that the City has used this staffing service since 2012 and that the contract “is not forestalling the hiring of permanent employees.”

This week’s Council Agenda Responses include more explanation about the work of these temporary employees and why staff recommends this contract instead of full-time City employees:

I look forward to discussing this issue at our meeting!