Jack Caldwell - Mining Engineer - Robertson GeoConsultants

I have just received an advanced copy of CostMine’s U.S. Metal & Industrial Mineral Mine Salaries, Wages & Benefits — 2013 Survey Results. You will be able to purchase the complete copy very soon from CostMine. I will summarize salaries, wages, and compensation for U.S. mining people in 2012 and 2013.

Let us start with wages. Here are the national average hourly wages, in US Dollars for 118 U.S. mines for some job categories:

  • Surface Mine Electrician = 27.75
  • Surface Mine Mechanic = 26.28
  • Surface Mine Heavy Equipment Operator = 23.78
  • Underground Mine Equipment Operator = 26.97
  • Underground Mine Surface Laborer = 19.45

It is interesting to compare these rates with the $15 an hour demanded by U.S. Fast Food workers, or the $10 an hour minimum wage Obama is touting. How many McDonald’s workers would be prepared to work as a surface laborer at an underground mine?

Let us take a deeper look at the wages of U.S. mine laborers. Here are the ranges and averages for laborers at large mines in the U.S.:

  • Surface Mine Laborer: from 12.92 to 29.07 for an average of 19.95
  • Surface Mine Driller: from 17.51 to 33.40 for an average of 28.17
  • Underground Mine Underground Laborer: from 15.84 to 39.57 for an average of 24.08

The comparable numbers for those working at small U.S. mines are:

  • Surface Mine Laborer: from 10.00 to 28.00 for an average of 17.58
  • Surface Mine Driller: from 14.03 to 24.75 for an average of 19.22
  • Underground Mine Underground Laborer: from 14.56 to 20.09 for an average of 17.33

If U.S. fast food workers get $15 an hour, there is sure to be a great rushing migration by laborers from small mines to the local McDonald’s – to work, not eat!

What about leaving the mine to work for Wal-Mart? Here is some idea of how you, as a laborer, could change your wage by leaving the mine and going to Wal-Mart – where most of the time you will be clean and comfortable inside an air-conditioned space. My source is this link:

The average Walmart “associate,” Wake Up Walmart reports, makes $11.75 an hour. That’s $20,744 per year. Those wages are slightly below the national average for retail employees, which is $12.04 an hour. They also produce annual earnings that, in a one-earner household, are below the $22,000 poverty line. On the other hand, these wages are far above minimum wage of $7.25 an hour. They also aren’t THAT FAR below the national retail average (only 2.5% below). In a two-earner household, moreover, these wages would produce a household income of $40,000+, which, in some areas of the country, is comfortably middle-class. Wal-Mart offers benefits to some of its employees, as well as store discounts and profit-sharing plans.

Here are some McDonald’s current wages (note the source is England, hence the currency quoted):

For 16 – 17 year-olds working in McDonald’s company owned restaurants, employees start on £4.25 per hour. 18 – 21 year olds in company owned restaurants start on £4.65 per hour and 22 years and above start on £5.55 per hour. The pay rates may vary in franchised restaurants. Trainee Managers receive a generous package with a starting salary between £18.5 and £21.5k per annum, six weeks holiday per year, Life Assurance cover and a Private Pension scheme.

The point of all this is that U.S. wages for essentially unskilled folk are low. Worst at McDonald’s, not too bad at Wal-Mart, and better, but not impressive in the mining industry. And the difference between Wal-Mart and mining wages is, in my opinion, small considering the much more difficult working conditions at a mine as compared to a Wal-Mart store close to home.