Prevailing Wage Laws

NABTU supports the consistent application of prevailing wage on federally assisted projects and opposes efforts to repeal or undermine this essential worker protection by way of legislative or regulatory changes. Similarly, NABTU’s state and local councils also support prevailing wage laws in their jurisdictions.

Federal prevailing wage laws are designed to prevent public procurement from artificially depressing the local wages and benefits paid to construction workers. In a competitive industry like construction, the contractor with the lowest bid is typically awarded the project. In federal procurement, the cost of materials and equipment is generally standardized. As such, low-road contractors focus on shaving down labor costs, creating a race to the bottom in wages and overall working conditions for construction workers. Federal laws such as the Davis-Bacon Act and Related Acts prevent this erosion of local area standards by establishing a wage floor, i.e., prevailing wages. Prevailing wage requirements, therefore, allow contractors to compete on a basis of who can best train, best equip and best manage a construction crew, not on the basis of who can assemble the cheapest, most exploitable workforce.

The Davis-Bacon Act (DBA) of 1931 requires contractors and subcontractors on federal projects to pay no less than the local prevailing wage. Since the DBA’s enactment, Congress has passed over 90 laws extending prevailing wage requirements to non-federal projects that receive various forms of federal assistance, including grants, loans, guarantees, insurance, tax credit bonds, and other innovative financing methods. These laws are known as Davis-Bacon Related Acts (DBRAs).

The US Department of Labor (DOL) establishes the prevailing wage rates based on periodic survey data it collects from construction projects in each county. Both union and non-union contractors participate in DOL surveys. Thus, the prevailing wage is not exclusively a “union” wage as some anti-worker groups claim. [Footnote: 29 C.F.R. 1.3(a)]