Does the Prevailing Wage Pertain To Me?

Dear Compliance Man,

Where does the “prevailing wage” come from and how do I know if it applies to me?

-Paulo in Fall River, MA

Dear Paulo,

There is a long answer to your question and I won’t bore you with details here (Give me a call if you want the full run-down). The prevailing wage rate is set in advance by the state for each individual project, even before the ground is broken. If you’re working on a federal job, then it’s the US Department of Labor that sets the rate.

As you probably know, the rate is set differently for different trades: crane operators, electricians, laborers, painters, etc., and is set to increase in increments, often over the life of the project. Contractors are required by law to post the rates on the job site; the rates can also be found in the “specs” or contract that the Clerk of the Works has.

As far as how to tell if your job is a “rate job” (“prevailing wage project”), ask yourself:  is this a “public project”? Is it owned by, say, a city or town, or maybe the highway department? Or is it a privately-owned or commercial enterprise?

Remember: the general contractor may be a private company, but as long as they are working to build something for the public, with few exceptions, the rate applies. It all comes down to ownership. Acme Inc. may build it, but they won’t run it after they hand it over to say, New Bedford or Holyoke or the state. Still not sure? Just call us and we’ll help you know for sure. We can probably tell you what the rate is, as well.

For free, confidential information about your rights as a construction worker, call the Foundation for Fair Contracting today at 1-877-507-3247, email us at, or fill out this electronic form.

For more commonly asked Compliance Man questions, visit the Compliance Man archives. Send your question to

Long on Hours, Short on Pay

Dear Compliance Man,

I worked construction last year on a public job and I’m pretty sure I got paid less than what I was supposed to be getting. If I’m right and my former boss owes me money, how do I get it back? What happens to him if it turns out that he was breaking the law?

–Shortchanged in Somerset

Dear Shortchanged,

You’ve come to the right place! If you suspect that you’ve been paid less than the prevailing wage on a public job, the Foundation for Fair Contracting can help. Contact us by phone, email, letter or fax. We’ll discuss your complaint with you and send you the form and information you need to start the process.

Using whatever information we receive from you and the additional documents we’ve collected, we’ll help you assemble as complete a complaint as possible for transmittal to the state enforcement agency – the Office of the Attorney General. Their Fair Labor Practices Division will assign an investigator to your case who’ll determine whether and just how much money you’re owed. Your investigator might also contact you for additional information. The Attorney General will notify you of the outcome. You can contact the Foundation at any time during the investigation process for updates. The Attorney General may also issue a citation and additional penalties against your former employer.

How long does the process take? This often depends on how clearly you’re able to document your case. And the sooner you get started, the sooner you’re likely to get the money you are owed!

REMEMBER:  Always keep a log of all your jobs – hours worked, work performed, wage rates – and your pay stubs so that if you need to file a complaint, you’ll have the records you need! We’ll be happy to send you one of our Log Books; just call 1-877-507-3247, email us at, or fill out this electronic form.

For more commonly asked Compliance Man questions, visit the Compliance Man archives. Send your question to

Can My Wages Change Based on The States I Work In?

Dear Compliance Man,

My husband is a heavy equipment operator for a company based in New England. Almost all the roadwork that they do is in Massachusetts, but he only receives the rate for our state, which is lower. Is he entitled to the MA rate when he is working there?

–An Inquiring Wife

Dear Inquiring Wife,

Yes. Regardless of the worker’s state of residence, union status, or employer’s business location, when working on public projects in Massachusetts, he is entitled to the full prevailing wage set for that project. Don’t let the boss play games with your husband’s pay. While the contractor may deduct for legitimate programs such as health and welfare or pension, etc., the entire package must add up to the full prevailing wage set for that trade.

The actual rate is supposed to be posted at the job site but more often it can be found inside the Clerk of the Works’ trailer. You can also call us for the specific project rate. Most importantly, be sure that your husband keeps a log book of all of his projects along with hours worked, plus all paystubs. We’ll send you a log book free of charge or you can download a simple log book here.

For more commonly asked Compliance Man questions, visit the Compliance Man archives. Send your question to