The system used in construction of the Illinois Michigan Canal was one developed over the years in the construction of other canals in the United States and Canada.
The overall supervision of the canal was by a board. Beneath the board was a canal engineer. The engineer issued guild lines and inspected the work. The actual work was done by contractors. The individual contractors would bid for work on half mile sections of the canal and work on the locks. Generally, the bid accepted would be the cheapest.
The contractor would be required to purchase a bond assuring the work be done. In addition, the canal commission would hold back a certain percentage of payment to insure completion.
The contractor would hire workers and pay them wages and also provide for shelter and food.
Because of the small profit margin and the uncertainty of payment from the canal commission, many contractors, would fail to complete the work. Their laborers would suffer the most with lack of wages.