Prevailing Wage Carpenter Cutting Wood 'Should I Be Getting "The Rate?" Municipal and federal work rates.

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The Massachusetts Prevailing Wage Law…

requires that employees working certain jobs involving the state or local cities and towns receive prevailing wage rate (often called “the rate” on job sites).  The law exists so companies don’t win job bids – and get public money — on the backs of their employees by driving down their wages. The actual hourly rate is set by the Department of Labor Standards (“DLS”).  Prevailing wage jobs typically involve work on libraries, public or charter schools, police or fire stations, town halls, and other public buildings.  The point of this article is that even though you may be receiving a prevailing wage, it may not be the right one.

The most important thing to understand is that if you are working on a public construction job in Massachusetts, your hourly rate is determined by the tasks you perform, NOT:

  1. Your job title;
  2. Your job description;
  3. What you were hired to do;
  4. What you are normally paid;
  5. Union membership; or,
  6. Whether you have a professional license.

The right rate is based on what you do. If you perform different tasks on different days, then you should receive different rates of pay for hours worked on those particular days.  For example, if you perform laborer tasks on Monday and Tuesday, and spend Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday doing carpentry, then your hours on Monday and Tuesday must be paid at the laborers rate, while the hours worked Wednesday through Friday must be paid at the carpenter’s rate.

Even if you perform different tasks throughout the same day, the law requires you to be paid the right rate for each task.  If, for example, you are a laborer for five hours each day, but perform carpentry work for another two hours, and paint for one hour, you should be paid the laborer’s rate for five hours, the carpenter’s rate for two hours, and the remaining hour should be at the painter’s rate.

You may be being underpaid, if, for example, you spend most of your day working digging ditches, but also find yourself operating a backhoe or driving a paver from time to time.  Do you unload materials or do demolition, then frame walls, hang drywall or sheetrock, install windows or doors, paint, or tape?  You may already be working in multiple job classifications and should be paid different rates accordingly.  If you find yourself performing many different tasks throughout the day, it may be a good idea to keep a journal or log, so you can track what you did on a particular day on a job site, and for which hours, to make sure you are paid properly.

A word about deductions. If you don’t receive any fringe benefits from your employer, you must receive the full prevailing wage rate.  The only permissible fringe benefit deductions allowed from the total rate are for health and welfare plans, pension plans and supplemental unemployment benefits.  Again, the employer may only take credit for the amounts it pays.  So, tools, cell phones, vehicles, rent, and materials cannot be deducted from the rate you must be paid by your employer.

You do not need to be a union member to receive the rate.

Also, even if you are doing the same thing, but in different locations, the rate varies by geographic location.  So, if you are working all across the state for your employer, or even in just a few different counties, you likely should be receiving different rates.  Additionally, out of state companies must pay the Massachusetts prevailing wage for work that qualifies in Massachusetts.

Fact is, employers have a strong incentive to pay less than the correct rate, and they often do. If you believe that, for example, you are being paid the laborer rate when you’re really doing other work, such as carpentry, taping or painting get in touch with us. We evaluate cases confidentially and at no cost.


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