Flawed System Lets Contractors Cheat Workers on Federal Building Jobs

AUG 21 2017, 4:58 AM ET

This story was originally published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.

Like many buildings of its vintage, the century-old headquarters of the United States General Services Administration was once lined with asbestos.

The hazardous mineral, used for fireproofing, filled nearly a half-million square feet of the building on F Street in downtown Washington. It took more than a hundred licensed workers almost a year to pry out the substance during a renovation that began in 2011. The workers would log nightly nine-hour shifts, spent mostly in air-tight spaces that reached 100 degrees.

The pay for this grueling task was dictated by the Davis-Bacon Act, a 1931 law that promises specific wages and benefits for construction work on government buildings and infrastructure. The compensation set by the U.S. Department of Labor under the act, based on location and job duties, is often higher than what’s offered on private-sector projects.

Three workers on the GSA job who spoke to the Center for Public Integrity said their employer didn’t tell them what they were owed under the law. They and 124 others filed a complaint with the Labor Department’s Wage and Hour Division in 2011.

Investigators found in the workers’ favor, saying they should have earned $25.47 per hour including benefits, as skilled laborers, a specific category of employee under Davis-Bacon. Instead, their supervisors paid them $15.84 an hour and classified their work as general labor. Six years after the complaint was filed, the investigation remains open on appeal. The workers still haven’t gotten their back pay.

“You feel powerless,” said Luis Fonseca, one of the asbestos removal workers.

But in some ways, Fonseca and his former co-workers already have beaten the odds.

(Read More)

US House Defends Davis-Bacon Act

Washington, D.C. (July 14, 2017)

Terry O’Sullivan, General President of LIUNA – the Laborers’ International Union of North America – made the following statement today on the U.S. House of Representatives’ vote to reject the Gosar Amendment to H.R. 2810, the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2018:

The U.S. House of Representatives decisively rejected an attack on the Davis-Bacon Act with 51 Republican members and all Democratic members voting to defeat the Gosar Amendment.

Representative Paul Gosar’s (R-AZ) amendment would have slashed the wages and benefits for Department of Defense construction projects by manipulating the calculation standard applied under the Davis-Bacon Act; adopting a new standard that would amount to massive cuts to paychecks and benefits.

The Davis-Bacon Act has kept public investment from undermining local wage and benefit standards for decades and Congress has consistently demonstrated their support for the act by rejecting attempts to weaken the Davis-Bacon Act.

LIUNA commends the U.S. House for their bi-partisan resolve in rejecting this cowardly attack on the livelihoods of working men and women.

(Visit LIUNA’s website)

Prevailing wage, project labor agreements protect living standards for construction workers

July 6, 2017 at 12:01 am

In an era of political hyperventilation, it might be a good idea for some critics to take a deep breath before they launch into their attacks on the prevailing wage laws and project labor agreements that protect the living standards of construction workers in California and across the nation.

From Washington, D.C., to Los Angeles, anti-union writers in recent weeks have incorrectly branded the 1931 Davis-Bacon Act that wrote the prevailing wage into the law on taxpayer-funded construction projects as born of racism and a rip-off of public funds. The same critics also have falsely characterized project labor agreements as costly to taxpayers and unfair to nonunion construction companies.

Now, for the facts.

Two Republican congressmen, Sen. James Davis of Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. Roger Bacon of New York, sponsored their legislation 86 years ago to establish a minimum wage on taxpayer-funded construction projects, based on local measures of central tendency in any of the covered construction trades.

The idea behind the prevailing wage is to keep unscrupulous operators from low-bidding the legitimate competition to the detriment of the local workforce. The effect has been to allow blue-collar workers – 400,000 of whom are represented by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California – to maintain their place in the American middle class.

Of the false charges that have been lodged of late about Davis-Bacon, perhaps the most repugnant is the smear that recirculates every so often that the act originated as an outgrowth of racism. The critics troll through the historic record to quote some congressmen in the debate over Davis-Bacon who supported the law based on their own warped view that it was designed to protect higher-paid white workers in the northeast represented by the authors of the law from “cheap colored labor” that would be imported to their districts from the South. The critics fail, however, to report Congressman Bacon’s reply that imported workers came in white skin as well as black.

(Read More)

Service Contract Act and Davis-Bacon Act Under Attack

By David Madland and Karla Walter
Posted on June 27, 2017, 11:45 am

The federal government spends hundreds of billions of dollars annually contracting out goods and services, including building highways, employing janitorial services in federal office buildings, and hiring security at nuclear laboratories. Prevailing wage laws-such as the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 and the McNamara-O’Hara Service Contract Act of 1965-help ensure that this spending does not drive down local wage and benefit standards; that businesses providing good jobs can compete; and that taxpayers get good value for their money.

Unfortunately, prevailing wage laws are under attack and could be repealed by this Congress. Several bills have been introduced to eliminate these long-standing laws, and reports indicate that these provisions could be attached to must-pass bills such as appropriations or defense authorization legislation. Despite his claims to be a pro-worker president, President Donald Trump has not committed to supporting these laws. Repealing prevailing wage laws would cut the wages of millions of workers and their families and ultimately cost taxpayers dearly.

The Davis-Bacon Act applies to workers on federally supported construction contracts, while the Service Contract Act applies to service workers on federal contracts. Both laws ensure that workers on government-funded projects are paid the going market rate-or the prevailing wage-based on surveys of wages and benefits for occupations in each local market. This helps standardize wages across an industry and ensures that government spending does not drive down market wages. In areas where there are a number of high-road firms-firms that treat their workers well-and market wages and benefits are high, the prevailing wage helps support good jobs. In areas where market wages are lower, the prevailing wage is also generally lower. Yet no matter the condition of the local labor market, prevailing wage laws help ensure that the federal government doesn’t undercut local standards.

Without these standards, the government purchasing process could cause wages in the market to spiral downward: This is because the government frequently awards contracts to the lowest bidder, which gives a natural advantage to those companies that pay their employees the least. This is especially true because of the federal government’s significant purchasing power. In many cases, the federal government is the largest buyer by far in the market, with the power to set the rate for goods, services, and labor. As a result, government spending could lower wages for workers throughout the private sector.

(Read More)

Setting the Record Straight on the Davis-Bacon Act

Sean McGarvey, Contributor
President – North America’s Building Trades Unions (NABTU)
06/21/2017 09:01 am ET

Once upon a time, conservative columnists like George Will could have been counted upon to offer thoughtful, reasoned and, most importantly, well-researched analysis on public policy issues.

Sadly, that academic approach to public policy debate has seemingly been forsaken, and Mr. Will’s recent column lambasting the federal Davis-Bacon Act as an inherently racist law is a case in point.

Furthermore, his unconscionable choice to elevate Rep. Steve King (R-IA) as an arbiter of intelligence on this issue, when the combative and isolated Congressman has proven himself over and over to be stunningly offensive, morally repugnant, disingenuous and completely fact-free when it comes to the issue of prevailing wage laws, is disappointing.

As a matter of historical record, Sen. James J. Davis (R-PA), Rep. Robert L. Bacon (R-NY) and countless others supported the enactment of the Davis-Bacon Act precisely because it would give protection to all workers, regardless of race or ethnicity.

The overwhelming legislative intent of the Act was clear: all construction workers, including minorities, are to be protected from abusive industry practices. Mandating the payment of local, “prevailing” wages on federally-funded construction projects not only stabilized local wage rates and labor standards for local wage earners and local contractors, but also prevented migratory contracting practices which treated African-American workers as exploitable indentured servants.

But rather than taking the time to understand the actual workings and characteristics of the U.S. construction industry as it exists today, along with the original intent of the Davis-Bacon Act which has evolved over the years to occupy an important role in preventing the erosion of community wage and benefit standards for minority workers, Mr. Will embraced an indolent approach that simply mimicked the talking points provided to him by the special interest groups who are leading the charge to repeal this important law.

(Read More)

Like everything, construction projects are better with (Davis) Bacon

By: Bridgetower Media Newswires
May 12, 2017 11:52 am

Today there is a new and more compelling reason to keep Davis-Bacon and prevailing-wage laws.

The unexpected result of Davis-Bacon and prevailing-wage laws is that they are empowering careers for the American disadvantaged worker. With advances in technology and with laws requiring government agencies to collect wage and worker data, local communities are taking advantage of this information to ensure their worker-hiring programs are successful. The results have been transformative.

Government agencies can now not only track wages; they can also keep track of how many people from various groups are being hired. Members of some of these groups have historically not been seen in large numbers in the construction industry. Meanwhile, inner cities are struggling economically and unemployment is running rampant in minority segments of our society.

Cities and public agencies are responding by attaching hiring goals to public-works projects. These call on contractors to hire local, underrepresented and economically disadvantaged workers.

Prevailing wages and Davis-Bacon laws have enabled these workforce programs to gain visibility and transparency through the requirement of certified payroll reporting. These reports have proved to be an invaluable means of tracking workforce goals, since information about workers’ sex, ethnicity and zip codes must also be submitted.

(Read More)

National Poll: Most Voters Support Prevailing Wage on Public Infrastructure Projects


“While voters may have disagreed on many issues this past November, they agree that prevailing wage laws should be preserved by a wide margin,” said pollster Brian Stryker. “Only 21% of voters want to eliminate prevailing wage laws-even after hearing a commonly referenced argument for doing so. And support for prevailing wage extends to large majorities of Democrats, Republicans, Independents and Trump voters.”

Construction is America’s fourth largest industry, and directly supports more than 6.6 million jobs. About a quarter of annual construction output, or $363 billion, is spent on government owned construction projects-including roads, bridges, schools, transit systems, water projects and municipal buildings.

Prevailing Wages are determined by surveys of existing market wage and benefit rates for skilled craft workers-such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians, ironworkers, cement masons, heavy equipment operators and others-in more than 3,000 communities across America. The Davis Bacon Act requires prevailing wage on most federally funded construction projects while about thirty states have laws requiring prevailing wages on state or locally funded projects.

(Read More)

(See Poll Summary)

Two Top U.S. Research Organizations: Repealing Davis-Bacon Act Would Save 0%

MARCH 9, 2017
Published by Frank Manzo

The Brookings Institution and Wilson Center are two of the top 10 research organizations in the United States.

Together, these nonpartisan organizations have relaunched The Fiscal Ship, an online “game” that challenges people to put the federal budget on a sustainable course over the next 25 years. Picking from the menu of tax and spending options can be pretty eye-opening for many Americans.

Embedded in the game is one interesting policy option called “repeal federal construction wage law.” Picking this option means that you’d repeal the Davis-Bacon Act, which requires that workers on federally-assisted construction projects be paid the local prevailing wage. The posited argument for repeal is that it would save the government money. The argument against repeal is:

“This is just another way to push down wages of hard-working folks. Davis-Bacon blocks out-of-town firms from parachuting in with low-paid workers and under-cutting local contractors. It could lead to lower-quality work by less-skilled workers.

Interestingly, if you play the game and only choose to repeal the federal prevailing wage law from the list of tax and spending options, your plan results in a 0% change in federal revenue and a 0% change in federal spending. The game gives you a positive mark if your goal is to shrink government but a negative mark if you goal is to reduce inequality.

Ultimately, your plan gets declined as not helping to fix the budget.

(Read More)


WHD News Release: 07/11/2016

Release Number: 16-1439-CHI

CINCINNATI, Ohio – Pipefitters and bricklayers constructing the Viking Village Shared Facility Pool in Sharonville under a federal contract will recover a total of $147,000 in back wages and benefits following an investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division.

Federal investigators found Gall Construction of America LTD underpaid the workers up to $17 per hour in salary and benefits, and violated provisions of the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts and the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act, which govern wage rates for projects receiving federal funds. The company operates as Acapulco Pools.

The division determined the company classified 21 bricklayers and pipefitters as general labors and failed to pay prevailing wages, fringe benefits and overtime at the rate due for their job titles. Gall also failed to keep accurate time and payroll records for employees. To resolve these violations the company agreed to pay the workers the monies owed in back wages and benefits.

(Read More)

USDOL Prevailing Wage Seminars for 2016

Join us at a Prevailing Wage Seminar in your region!

The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) Prevailing Wage Seminars (Prevailing Wage Seminars) are three-day compliance trainings designed for regional stakeholders (unions, private contractors, state agencies, federal agencies and workers). In these seminars, conference participants will learn about the following:

  • The Davis-Bacon Act and McNamara O’Hara Service Contract Act
  • Executive Order 13495 “Nondisplacement of Qualified Workers”
  • Executive Order 13658 “Establishing a Minimum Wage for Contractors”
  • The process of obtaining wage determinations and adding classifications
  • Compliance assistance and enforcement processes
  • The process for appealing wage rates, coverage, and compliance determinations


There is no fee to attend these seminars; however, space is limited. If you wish to attend, please click on the registration link for your desired location and follow the registration prompts. Each attendee must register separately. If registration is not yet open for the event you wish to attend, please check back. Please feel free to email WHDPWS@dol.gov if you have any questions.

Date Location
August 23 – 25, 2016 Portland, OR

For more information regarding the upcoming prevailing wage seminars, as well as information on the DBA and SCA visit http://www.dol.gov/whd/govcontracts or call the Wage and Hour Division’s toll-free helpline at 866-4US-WAGE (487-9243).

(Click Here to Register)