group of construction workers

More than $1.3 million in wages and penalties was recently collected on behalf of workers who were employed on a public works project. The case involved what are known as prevailing wages, a term that is relevant when discussing pay on government jobs. Whether you work for a private employer or a government contractor, it’s imperative that you understand your rights to fair pay. Our national network of wage and hour attorneys can help.

What Is a Prevailing Wage?

Before explaining the details of what the California Labor Commissioner did, it helps to understand more about prevailing wages. Generally, with respect to government contracting, a prevailing wage is the hourly wage, benefits, and overtime that is paid to the majority of workers within a particular geographic area. The U.S. Department of Labor defines the prevailing wage rate as the average wage that is paid to similarly employed workers in a specific occupation in a certain geographic area.

With respect to California, all workers who are employed on public works projects have to be paid the prevailing wage, which is set by the Director of the Department of Industrial Relations (DIR). The rate is based on the type of work that is done and where the project is located within the state. Prevailing wage rates are generally based on rates that are established by the collective bargaining process.

All employees who are hired on public works projects are required to be paid the prevailing wage as determined by the DIR. Failure to do so, or comply with other public works requirements, can lead to civil penalties, criminal prosecution, or both. This is where the recent action by the California Labor Commissioner comes in.

Over $1.3 Million in Wages and Penalties Recovered

The city of Wasco had hired a general contractor to construct a $42 million farmworker housing complex that included 66 apartments. The general contractor, in turn, hired a subcontractor for carpentry and siding work.

The Labor Commissioner’s Office began investigating in February 2019 after a worker filed a public works violation complaint. The complaint alleged underpayment of wages and non-payment of travel expenses and subsistence. Also, the construction worker stated that he was paid in cash for his labor. It was determined that the subcontractor failed to report all of its workers and hours worked on required payroll reports and that it falsified payroll reports, paychecks, and paystubs.

The investigation ultimately concluded that wage theft took place in the form of kickbacks and non-reporting of hours. The subcontractor’s crew leader would collect workers’ paychecks, sign them, cash them, and then pay the workers much less than the amount that was listed on their checks. It was an audacious form of theft, not to mention an illegal and unfair business practice.

Ultimately, $1,331,682 in wages and penalties were collected as a result of its prevailing wage assessment. The money will compensate 27 workers who were not paid prevailing wage rates while working on the project.

Are You Being Paid the Correct Wage?

Whether it’s the prevailing wage, minimum wage, or overtime, there are state and federal laws that protect workers. At The Lore Law Firm, we strive to make sure employees everywhere are informed of those protections. Then we take action against employers who violate them. If you have questions about whether you are being fairly compensated for your work, reach out to us by completing 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.