According to recent report by the Citizens Budget Commission (CBC), “the process for determining prevailing wage is neither straight-forward nor transparent.” The group is taking issue specifically with how prevailing wage determinations are made in New York.
The CBC is calling on the State Labor Commissioner to clarify how New York prevailing wage determinations are established. The ambiguity in the current system is leading to wage inequality that is leaving some workers frustrated.
Overview of New York Department of Labor’s Prevailing Wage Laws
Prevailing wage law is designed to provide a threshold compensation structure for workers on government or public projects. It is unique and tailored to each job title in any given area. The law was adopted to address concerns contractors were cutting wages and safety in order to win the lowest bid in contract wars.
Under state law, both contractors and subcontractors must receive the prevailing rate of wages when working under a public works contract. These contracts typically cover those in the building, construction and building service trades.
The prevailing wage rate varies depending on county and applies to all laborers, workers and mechanics employed under these contracts. Once received, the contractor is required to pay employees contract wages and supplemental benefits at or above the current prevailing wage rates.
Transparency of Wage Determination
These wages are determined by the State Labor Commissioner for State and local governments and by the Office of the Comptroller in New York City. The wage is based on negotiations in a specific location between labor organizations and private-sector employers that employ at least 30 percent of workers in a specific title or trade.
The labor agreements used to set prevailing wage rates are not explained, and relevant collective bargaining agreements are not referenced. As a result, there are very few ways to challenge a wage rate.
The CBC recommends expanding the general survey that is used from 30 percent of workers in a specific title or trade to a larger amount, closer to the federal standard of 50 percent. By expanding the survey, the CBC argues, the Labor Commissioner can get a more accurate view of the true prevailing wage.
In addition, the CBC would like the definitions of the titles used for workers to be more clearly defined. Ambiguity in titles has contributed to wage disparity.
Prevailing Wages and Employees
In addition to concerns regarding prevailing wage determination, employees may need to challenge the requirement that employers provide proper payment. Violation of this law can result in charges of material breach of contract and ultimately lead to termination of the contract.
If an employer withheld proper wages, remedies are available. It is important to contact an experienced prevailing wage attorney to ensure all legal rights and remedies are protected.