Lori A. Beirman, director of audit quality

Prevailing Wage – What Do I Need To Know?

1.18.24

Micron Technologies is slated to build a semiconductor fabrication facility in Onondaga County. The project may receive, among other things, up to $5.5 billion in tax incentives from Albany’s “Green CHIPS” program. This program requires construction projects to comply with prevailing wage rules.

Prevailing wage laws are designed to level the playing field for local workers. These laws apply to public projects and require contractors to pay most of their workers a set minimum wage of no less than the local “prevailing wage” rate. This rate is often based on wages and benefits paid to union employees. By standardizing compensation rates across union and nonunion worksites, the higher standards and benefits obtained by unions through collective bargaining agreements are extended to a much larger base of workers.

For some background, federal construction projects are covered by the Davis-Bacon Act, which is a federal law that protects construction workers’ wages on government-funded projects. It covers all 50 states. In addition, 32 states have their own prevailing wage laws for state government-owned construction projects. The New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) is responsible for calculating the prevailing wage for state and local government projects, except for New York City, where the city comptroller publicizes prevailing wage rates. While the U.S. Labor Department determines prevailing wage by conducting periodic surveys of area employers, New York State does not conduct a wage census. Instead, the NYSDOL copies the terms and conditions of construction union contracts, for each trade and region. This difference is due to the assumption that at least 30% of the workers in every trade in every part of the state belong to a trade union. Because these “prevailing” wages are often based on union contracts, including union fringe benefits, they can equal or even exceed a worker’s hourly cash pay on private work. In other words, in addition to the basic hourly cash pay rate, prevailing wage schedules include supplements (fringe benefits) that vary based on the craft, trade or occupation. Prevailing wage supplements may be provided to workers in the form of a cash payment (wages), or through irrevocable contributions to a fund, plan or program, or any combination of the two. Deciding which method of payment for supplements to use can be complicated and should involve discussions with a financial professional.

To further support local workers and boost the local economy, lawmakers continue to work to broaden the definition of public work and expand the reach of the prevailing wage to more projects across the state. For example, since prevailing wages drive up costs, it may encourage contractors to have more work performed off-site. To counteract this issue, in 2017 and again in 2023, lawmakers worked to pass laws to apply prevailing wage rules to certain off-site fabrication of goods used on a public works job site. In February 2022, New York State passed a law relating to the payment of prevailing wage for work involving the delivery to and hauling of aggregate supply construction materials on a public works job. Additionally, state and federal lawmakers have proposed legislation to broaden the definition of public works projects to include those paid for in whole or in part out of public funds.

Due to these constant changes in the law, it is important for construction contractors in New York to stay up to date with the laws and their responsibilities, not just for their employees but also for the employees of their subcontractors. According to Section 198 (e) of the New York State labor laws, contractors are liable for all claims on unpaid wages, benefits and wage supplements for workers employed by their subcontractors.  Therefore, it is critical for contractors to perform due diligence on their subcontractors. Recordkeeping is critical to ensure compliance with prevailing wage laws in New York. Proper documentation of employee hours worked ensures contractors adhere to the law and assists in any possible investigations or audits conducted by the NYSDOL.

Prevailing wage laws support good wages and benefits, thereby helping to close racial, gender and geographical pay gaps, promote quality work and improve the value received for each taxpayer dollar. However, for employers, prevailing wage laws can be confusing and complex. The repercussions of noncompliance can be devastating to any business. Therefore, it is important for employers to have a clear understanding of prevailing wage laws and to know when to ask for assistance.

 

Contributing author: Lori A. Beirman is the director of audit quality at Dannible & McKee, LLP. She has over 23 years of experience in audit, reviews and compilations in a variety of industries, such as construction, manufacturing and professional service firms. She also specializes in data analytics and fraud.  For more information on this topic, you may contact Lori at lbeirman@dmcpas.com or (315) 472-9127.