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New York Prevailing Wage: Are You Being Paid Fairly?

Under New York’s prevailing wage law, private contractors who are awarded public contracts for construction or maintenance of a public project must pay workers according to the approved prevailing wage schedule, set forth by either the State Department of Labor or the New York City Office of the Comptroller.

The purpose of a prevailing wage is twofold: The first is to ensure workers have a decent quality of life. The second is to assure the construction of and services within a government-owned facility are of high quality.

Workers covered under this statute are most often those in building, construction and service trades, which could include everything from gardeners to janitors. The amount of pay is based on the local collective bargaining agreement with at least a third of the trade union membership for each jurisdiction. That means the wage schedules vary on a county-by-county basis. Based on the current schedule, a Class C janitor in New York County would be entitled to a current prevailing wage of $23.35 an hour, whereas a janitor in Nassau can expect to receive a prevailing wage of $12.32 hourly.

Those employed in trades are increasingly becoming educated on employer obligations under this law, and in turn have received compensation in cases where companies failed to pay workers appropriately. While current laws don’t generally allow workers to sue their employer for prevailing wage violations, many have found that hiring an experienced prevailing wage attorney has resulted in the facilitation of formal complaints with relevant government agencies, which in turn remedy the situation by requiring back-pay and future compliance.

It’s important to distinguish here that there is a difference between prevailing wage and minimum wage. The latter is the lowest possible rate that a worker can be legally paid. Currently in New York, it’s set at $8, though it will increase to $8.75 at the end of 2014.

Meanwhile, a prevailing wage is the standard of wages and benefits paid to the level of workers in the same area in a given industry. The concept was first instituted by the federal government and later by states. It was meant to address companies eager to snap up government contracts who were offering up basement-bargain bids by undercutting worker pay, as well as compromising safe labor practices.

Typically, prevailing wages are higher than for those in similar occupations in the metro region. For example, an average truck driver in the New York City metro region earns between $18.09 hourly to $24.67 hourly. However, a trucker entitled to a prevailing wage is paid between $35.06 an hour to $37.34 an hour.

In no case should a covered worker be paid less than the living wage rate per hour, which the city comptroller has set at $10.30 hourly, with a supplemental benefit rate of $1.60 hourly, from April 1, 2014 through March 31, 2015.

In New York, prevailing wages are offered to workers of private firms contracted to work on “public work.” While the law doesn’t expressly define “public work,” the state labor department sets forth two criteria for determination of what is a public work. The first is that the public agency must be a contracting entity, and the second is that the project’s primary purpose is to benefit the public.

In addition to defining the rate of pay, prevailing wage laws also determine work rules and other forms of compensation, such as fringe benefits and overtime. Rules for those in the construction and building trades are the most heavily restricted, with workers being barred to put in more than 8 hours daily or more than five days in a week, except in an “extraordinary emergency” situation. Employers are also required to provide rest periods and lunch breaks, and individuals with certain job titles may be entitled to health and pension benefits, vacation pay, insurance and apprenticeship training.

The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.

Additional Resources:
Living wage for employees in New York City financially assisted workplaces, pursuant to New York City Administrative Code 6-134, Office of the Comptroller

More Blog Entries:
Court Sets Strict Liability Precedence for Prevailing Wage Compliance, Feb. 10, 2014, New York City Prevailing Wage Lawyer Blog