construction workers gathered over blueprints

The Davis-Bacon Act, a longstanding pillar in federal construction projects, ensures workers receive fair wages commensurate with local standards. Recently, significant revisions have expanded the Act’s protections to include secondary construction sites dedicated to a project covered by the Act. These changes are part of a general expansion of the application of the Davis-Bacon Act, enabling its protections to reach more construction workers who labor at the places where significant portions of the work occur.

Understanding the Davis-Bacon Act

The Davis-Bacon Act, established in 1931, serves as a safeguard for construction workers by mandating that contractors and subcontractors pay their laborers and mechanics a minimum wage that aligns with the prevailing wages in the area where the work is performed. This applies to those working on federally funded or assisted construction projects. The prevailing wage is determined by the Department of Labor and is based on the wages paid in the local area for similar projects. By setting this standard, the Act aims to prevent contractors from undercutting local wage rates and protects workers from being paid unfairly low wages.

New Revisions to the Davis-Bacon Act

As of October 23, 2023, the Davis-Bacon Act saw pivotal revisions aimed at broadening the scope of its wage protections. In an update to the determination of prevailing wages, the threshold for the wage paid to workers has been adjusted: now, a prevailing wage is set to match the wages of at least 30% of workers in a specific trade within a locality, a significant shift from the previous requirement of 50%. This change is expected to better reflect the true wages of a greater number of construction workers, ensuring that the calculated prevailing wage is more accurately representative of the current labor market conditions.

Further expanding its coverage, the updated regulations extend the Act’s reach to include “secondary construction sites,” a move specifically targeting the modular construction sector. Previously, offsite construction activities were covered by the Davis-Bacon Act only under more limited circumstances, such as proximity to the primary construction site or being explicitly established for a particular contract. The new rule has relaxed these conditions, mandating that any offsite location dedicated almost exclusively to a federal contract for a certain duration will now fall under the Act’s provisions. This ensures that the workers involved in significant offsite tasks, which are crucial to the completion of many modern construction projects, receive fair wages consistent with onsite labor.

What Are Secondary Construction Sites?

Secondary construction sites are sites that are recognized as places where a significant portion of a federal construction project is executed, separate from the primary construction location. Such secondary sites are covered by the Act’s labor standards if they are involved in constructing integral parts of the project that are intended for specific use in the final structure and are not standard products for the general public. The rule further specifies that these secondary sites must be either established for the specific federal contract at hand or predominantly dedicated to the contract for a set duration, ensuring that the labor standards apply to locations that are effectively extensions of the primary construction site.

To address the ambiguity surrounding what constitutes a “significant portion” of construction work, the regulations clarify that this includes entire segments or modules of the building or work, such as complete rooms or structures that require minimal additional work beyond installation or final assembly at the main construction site. A “significant portion” does not encompass mere materials or prefabricated component parts like standardized housing components. This distinction ensures that the application of Davis-Bacon labor standards is reserved for those secondary activities that are fundamentally integral to the construction project, rather than for the production of common or generic parts.

Potential Impact of the Revised Rule

The revised rule’s expansion of the Davis-Bacon Act to secondary construction sites is poised to have an impact on the construction industry with respect to modular and offsite construction practices. By ensuring that workers at these sites are paid prevailing wages, the rule aims to elevate the overall standard of living for laborers who contribute significant portions of work away from the primary job site. This change not only promises to boost wage protections but also could level the playing field among contractors, mitigating the practice of underbidding by those not providing fair wages. Moreover, it may stimulate broader compliance with wage standards across the construction sector, reinforcing the principle that fair compensation is fundamental to federal construction projects.

How Do the Rules Regarding Secondary Construction Sites Affect You? 

The extension of the Davis-Bacon Act to encompass secondary construction sites represents a significant step toward ensuring fair compensation for workers across all facets of federal construction projects. As these changes take effect, workers must understand their rights under the new provisions. If you have questions about how these revisions impact your employment, our experienced employment law attorneys at the Lore Law Firm are here to provide clarity and guidance—contact us by filling out our free and confidential online client intake form.

Michael Lore is the founder of The Lore Law Firm. For over 25 years, his law practice and experience extend from representing individuals in all aspects of labor & employment law, with a concentration in class and collective actions seeking to recover unpaid back overtime wages, to matters involving executive severance negotiations, non-compete provisions and serious personal injury (work and non-work related). He has handled matters both in the state and federal courts nationwide as well as via related administrative agencies. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Michael by using our chat functionality.