Asbestos is universally regarded as a major health hazard. Working with asbestos can present serious dangers to your health. Breathing in fibers, too small to the naked eye, can lead to a buildup of scar-like tissue in your lungs called asbestosis that can lead to disability and death. The substance also causes cancer and other diseases, which can attack your lungs.
Asbestos is often encountered in the construction industry. Due to its heat resistant properties, asbestos has been used in insulation for pipes, building materials, and floor tiles. Your employer needs to take precautions to protect you from the dangers of this substance. Additionally, when working on certain public jobs, you should be receiving a set rate to perform this work.
Under Massachusetts Prevailing Wage Law workers on certain jobs involving the state, counties, or local cities and towns must receive prevailing wage (often called “the rate” on job sites). The law exists so companies don’t win publicly-financed jobs by just reducing employees’ wages.
Asbestos removal falls into two job classifications: (1) Asbestos Worker; and (2) Laborer – Hazardous Waste/Asbestos Remover. Depending on the geographic location, the Asbestos Worker classification may be listed on rate sheets as Asbestos Worker (Pipes & Tanks) or Asbestos Worker – Pipe / Mech. Equipment. However, they are functionally equivalent.
The correct job classification is important, because there is a difference in the hourly rate between the two classifications. The actual hourly rate is set by the Department of Labor Standards (“DLS”). See G.L. c. 149, § 26. Prevailing wage jobs typically involve work on libraries, public or charter schools, police or fire stations, town halls, and other public buildings. If you are removing asbestos on one of these projects, your employer MUST pay you the correct prevailing wage rate.
To provide clarity on the issue of asbestos abatement classification, DLS has issued a Notice of Prevailing Wage Classification. In it, DLS opined:
“Asbestos Worker (Pipes and Tanks)” classification is the proper classification for the removal of asbestos on piping, fittings, valves, boilers, ducts, flues, tanks, vats, or equipment for the purposes of thermal control, including HVAC systems, except in instances where the piping, fittings, valves, boilers, ducts, flues, tanks, vats, and equipment for the purposes of thermal controls, are being demolished, in which the applicable wage rate would that of a ‘Laborer Hazardous Waste/Asbestos Remover.’
Notice of Prevailing Wage Classification: Asbestos Worker (Pipes & Tanks) and Laborer: Hazardous Waste/Asbestos Remover. See also Letter to Jones, Office of the Attorney General (October 26, 2007 DOS) (“If the removal work on the heating system were [sic] being done to an intact system, the work would be that of the Asbestos Worker (Pipes & Tanks)”).
On the other hand,
“Laborer Hazardous Waste/Asbestos Remover” is the proper classification for the removal of asbestos from the structural part of a building including all asbestos removal on piping, fittings, valves, boilers, ducts, flues, tanks, vats, or equipment for the purposes of thermal controls (including HVAC systems) when such equipment or systems will be demolished.
Notice of Prevailing Wage Classification: Asbestos Worker (Pipes & Tanks) and Laborer: Hazardous Waste/Asbestos Remover.
Employers will often classify and pay all of their employees as Asbestos Workers rather than the higher paying Laborer – Hazardous Waste/Asbestos Remover classification, regardless of the type of work being performed. This practice is illegal. You must be paid the correct rate for the work you perform on each and every project for each and every hour.
We can help
Many employers pay the wrong rate. If you believe that you were paid at the incorrect rate or should have received a different one, get in touch with us. We evaluate cases confidentially and at no cost.
Contact us at (617) 338-9400 or fill out a request for a free wage case review.