Many employees don’t realize that the minimum wage is not $8 per hour on public works projects. Employees often don’t realize they are getting shortchanged until they find out another worker on the same site working for a different contractor is getting paid significantly more. Public works projects are governed by prevailing wage laws. These laws were established to prevent contractors and subcontractors from reducing employee wages to compete for projects. The central purpose of the prevailing wage law, which is a minimum wage law, is to protect and benefit employees on public works projects by ensuring these employees receive wages common to their trade, craft, or classification.
What is California’s prevailing wage law?
The California Prevailing Wage Law (California Labor Code, §§ 1720-1861) is a comprehensive statutory scheme designed to enforce minimum wage standards on construction projects funded in whole or in part with public funds.
Under this law, ALL workers employed on public works projects costing more than $1,000 must be paid not less than the general prevailing rate as determined by the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations. The duty to pay prevailing wages extends to both the prime contractor and all subcontractors. The central purpose of this law, which is a minimum wage law, is to protect and benefit employees on public works projects.
Which employers are covered?
The duty to pay prevailing wages extends to both the prime contractor and all subcontractors on public works projects. A subcontractor is any person or company that has entered into an agreement to provide services for a main or prime contractor, whether it is a purchase order or contract or an oral agreement. Basically, if you are working at a jobsite, your employer is either a contractor or a subcontractor.
What is a public works project?
Under these laws a public works project is any project costing more than $1,000 that is funded in whole or in part with public funds. So even if your worksite appears to be a private sector project, if part of the funds comes from public sources it may be considered a public works project.
What rate should I be paid?
The Director of the Department of Industrial Relations determines and publishes the wage rates for specific trades, crafts, or classifications.
The applicable rate depends on your duties, NOT the title your employer gives you. For example, your employer may hire you as a roofer, but you are actually doing work as a mechanic. Courts will look at your actual job duties and determine that you should have been paid the prevailing wage for a mechanic even though your title is “roofer.” A qualified attorney can help you evaluate your job duties and determine your correct wages.