The prevailing wage is the local "going rate" for work on government-contracted projects, such as building, repairing or modernizing public buildings. Prevailing wage determination includes fringe benefits.
The prevailing wage is a legislative effort to ensure that private-sector employees receive at least the same pay and benefits for working on government projects as they would for working on non-government projects, whether or not they are union-protected employees.
To put that another way, prevailing wage laws prevent contractors and subcontractors from landing profitable government projects by bidding lower than their competitors at the expense of their employees.
Several states and the Federal government have differing prevailing wage laws and related regulations. Subsequently, the prevailing wage varies by location and project type, and your occupation or job duties (worker classification) as well.
The prevailing wage rate may be as low as the minimum wage per hour, but in no case may it be lower for employees who are covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), or state or municipal equivalents.
Similarly, overtime pay for work hours exceeding 40 in a workweek may not be less than 1.5 times the prevailing wage rate for employees who are covered by the FLSA, or state or municipal equivalents.
Under the Federal prevailing wage laws linked below, contractors and subcontractors must pay local prevailing wages to their employees who work under Federal government contracts of certain dollar amounts.
The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), Wage and Hour Division (WHD) enforces the laws above and makes prevailing wage determinations for employees working under Federal contracts. For state-contracted projects, a division of the state labor department typically enforces prevailing wage laws and makes prevailing wage determinations.
To determine the prevailing wage for each of the worker classifications involved in a project, the DOL and related state labor departments use collective bargaining agreements, surveys and statistical data.
To find out how much the prevailing wage rate is under a Federal contract, look for a notice. The laws linked above require Federal contractors and subcontractors to post a prevailing wage notice in a prominent location at the work site or deliver such notice to affected employees.
The same likely goes under state or municipal government contracts, but it depends on the varying laws. To research the prevailing wage in the absence of a notice, start at the Web site of the relevant state labor department. Look for "wage and hour" or related topics.
If you reasonably believe that your employer has cheated you out of the prevailing wage under a Federal contract, then you may file a complaint with the nearest district office of the DOL's Wage and Hour Division. To file a complaint under a state or municipal government contract, start by browsing the Web site of the relevant state labor department for related information; typically, the wage and hour or an equivalent division handles wage complaints.
Consult a lawyer for legal advice regarding the prevailing wage and related benefits.
If you reasonably believe that your employer is defrauding the Federal, state or municipal government on a contracted project, then, under the Federal False Claims Act or a local equivalent, you may file a qui-tam lawsuit on behalf of that government and collect your fair share of the monetary damages you win. Consult a lawyer about filing a qui-tam lawsuit.