Certain workers in New Jersey and New York are protected by “prevailing wage” laws. These are government-mandated rules directing how much government contractors and subcontractors must pay workers on public works projects.
Significant violations of the prevailing wage laws continue to pepper the local news. In New York, a contractor is now facing charges of 139 counts of fraud related to a project at John F. Kennedy airport. These charges stemmed from allegations that the contractor failed to pay workers more than $250,000 in union benefits and filed false certified payroll records with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to cover up the deficiencies.
What is the Purpose of Prevailing Wage Laws?
The New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act (PWA), the federal Davis-Bacon Act, and Articles 8 and 9 of the New York Labor Law were enacted to protect the rights of employees on government-funded projects, combatting unfair labor practices, corruption, and underbidding. They determine minimum rates of pay to laborers, craftsmen, and apprentices employed on applicable projects and require certification of compliance from contractors awarded projects. Contractors who bid on projects covered by these laws must register with the state and pay applicable registration fees before being eligible to receive a contract, which helps ensure that the contractors operate above board and gives employees some recourse for complaints.
How Much Are the Prevailing Wages?
Each craft or trade has a different prevailing wage rate scale; in New Jersey, this is determined by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development. The different wage rates are based on the collective bargaining agreements established for each particular craft or trade in the locality in which each public work is performed. They vary by the location of the job (each New Jersey county has a different rate), by the type of work performed, and by the experience level of the worker.
For instance, the prevailing wage for a general laborer in Middlesex County is between $23 and $29 per hour, depending on experience.
Prevailing wage rates change frequently based on legislative initiative or renegotiations in union contracts. The tables reflecting the current prevailing wages for each occupation and location are updated and published regularly. In order to protect your rights, you should make sure you understand what rate applies to you and monitor your payroll records closely to ensure that you are being paid the correct amount.
For What Projects Does the NJ Prevailing Wage Apply?
Public works projects subject to the prevailing wage in New Jersey are those of at least a specified value funded in whole or in part by public funding. Contracts awarded directly by a municipal government (e.g., a city council) must be at least $15,444 to be covered by the Act, but for contracts entered into by all other public entities, including municipal utility authorities and boards of education, the minimum value is only $2,000. Other qualification requirements include that the work site must be at least 22,000 square feet and at least 55% of the project’s work must be done on government or public property.
New York lawmakers have introduced legislation that would expand the prevailing wages law to encompass privately owned projects that receive financial assistance from state or local industrial development agencies. If you do work in New York, make sure you understand how these changing laws may affect your rights to compensation on each project.
How Is the New Jersey PWA enforced?
In New Jersey, representatives from the Division of Wage and Hour Compliance conduct routine site visits and paperwork audits on eligible projects throughout the state. Employees who believe that a violation has occurred can report it to the Division of Wage and Hour Compliance. These “whistleblower” employees are protected from retaliation by the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA), which prohibits an employer from taking any adverse employment action against a worker as a result of reporting the alleged violation. Violations of the PWA can result in significant fines to the contractor (up to $1,000 per incident); willful and continued violations can result in imprisonment for up to 90 days.
If you are a worker protected by the PWA, and you believe you’re not being paid what you are entitled to, you should consult with an experienced New Jersey wage and hour attorney. Both the PWA and the NJ Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD) also prohibit discrimination on the basis of protected characteristics including race, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or military status. If you believe you have been the victim of wage discrimination, retaliation, or other wage and hour improprieties, contact the Mark Law Firm today for an appointment with one of our employment lawyers in Basking Ridge, Newark, or Oradell.