Public works projects in California are governed by prevailing wage laws. Even so, 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.
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 workers 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 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 California prevailing wages extends to both the prime contractor and all subcontractors on public works projects. A subcontractor is any person or company that has agreed to provide services for a primary or prime contractor, whether it is a purchase order or contract or oral agreement.
If you are working at a job site, 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 work site 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 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 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 evaluate the job duties and determine the correct wages.