The information here should not be considered as legal advice.
The Law: Enacted in 1945, the Washington State Public Works Act, also known as the “prevailing wage law,” is a worker protection act.
It requires that workers be paid prevailing wages when employed on public works projects, and on public building service maintenance contracts. RCW 39.04.010, RCW 39.12.010 and 020.
Purpose: The Public Works Act is modeled after the federal Davis-Bacon Act which was enacted to protect the employees of contractors performing public works construction from substandard earnings, and to preserve local wage standards. The employees, not the contractor or its assignee, are the beneficiaries of the Act. It is remedial and should be liberally construed. In other words, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries is directed to apply the law in ways that carry out its intent, which is to protect workers.
Application: The Public Works Act regulates wages paid to workers, laborers and mechanics performing public work. It does not apply to work that is clerical, executive, administrative or professional in nature. For example, the Act does not apply to the work of a secretary, engineer or administrator, unless they are performing construction work, alteration work, repair work, etc. Prevailing wage application depends on the work that is performed, regardless of the worker’s job title. Any doubts or questions regarding the applicability of the prevailing wage law should be directed to the Prevailing Wage Office at Labor and Industries. RCW 39.12.020 and WAC 296-128-510 through 530.
WHAT IS A PUBLIC WORKS PROJECT?
Defined: Public Work is all work, construction, alteration, repair or improvement that is executed at the cost of the state or any other local public agency. This includes, but is not limited to, demolition, remodeling, renovation, road construction, building construction, ferry construction and utilities construction. RCW 39.04.010.
Public Building Service Maintenance Contracts Prevailing wages are also required on all public building service maintenance (janitorial) contracts. RCW 39.12.020.
Offsite Prefabrication: The offsite fabrication of nonstandard items specifically for a public works project is also considered to be public work for which prevailing wages are required. Examples of this include, but are not limited to, fabrication of ducts for heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, certain concrete tunnel liners and certain steel prefabrication. RCW 39.12.020 and WAC 296-127-010 (5) (b).
Maintenance Prevailing: wages are also required to be paid on all maintenance performed by contract. RCW 39.04.010.
Material Suppliers: The production and delivery of sand, gravel, crushed rock, asphalt, and other similar materials may also require the payment of prevailing wage rates. RCW 39.12.010 and 020, and WAC 296-127-018.
Turnkey Projects Prevailing wages are required in cases where a public agency causes work to be performed as a condition of occupying and leasing or renting at least 50% of the facility by one or more public agencies. The agreement that causes the remodel work to be performed must contain the prevailing wage rates, a statement that the workers must receive at least prevailing wage, and a requirement that the Intent form be filed prior to the release of any payments. Public agencies entering into these agreements and authorizing payments without the filing of the Intent form are liable to all workers for the full amount of any unpaid wages. RCW 39.04.260, RCW 39.12.030 through 042.
WHAT IS PREVAILING WAGE??
Defined: Prevailing Wage is the hourly wage, usual benefits and overtime, paid in the largest city in each county, to the majority of workers, laborers and mechanics.
Prevailing wages are established, by the Department of Labor and Industries, for each trade and occupation employed in the performance of public work. They are established separately for each county, and are reflective of local wage conditions. RCW 39.12.010 and 015.
Methodology: The Industrial Statistician determines all prevailing wage rates. Surveys are conducted in which employers and labor unions are invited to submit wage and hour data to the Industrial Statistician. If the majority of workers in a trade or occupation, in the largest city in a county, are paid at the same wage rate, that wage becomes the prevailing wage. If not, an average wage is calculated. WAC 296-127-019.
Fringe Benefits and Overtime: The prevailing rate of wage also includes usual benefits and overtime. Usual benefits include medical insurance, pensions, training programs, and vacation and holiday pay. Deductions from workers’ paychecks are not usual benefits. Usual benefits are employer-paid. Benefits that are required by law (industrial insurance, social security, etc.) do not qualify as usual benefits. Employers may pay the prevailing usual benefit amounts directly to the worker, instead of providing the benefits. Special overtime rates are also established for each trade and occupation. RCW 39.12.010 and WAC 296-127-014.