For the first time in over 40 years, the government has proposed updating the Davis-Bacon regulations.
The 1931 Davis-Bacon Act requires the payment of Prevailing Wage rates on federal or federally assisted construction contracts. The law applies to workers on contracts in excess of $2,000 entered into by federal agencies and the District of Columbia for the construction, alteration or repair of public buildings or public works. It protects local wage standards by preventing contractors from basing bids on cheaper wages than those prevailing locally.
If the proposal is acted upon, it would directly benefit members of Sheet Metal Workers Local 24 members, along with other union building trades and even some non-union construction workers. It would benefit all Local 24 members working on federal projects, especially on contracts at the Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, which have been particularly prevalent.
On March 11, the Department of Labor released a “Notice of Proposed Rulemaking” — the government’s formal notice that it is considering changes to the regulations that cover the Davis-Bacon Act and Davis-Bacon related acts.
The changes are intended “to better reflect the needs of workers in the construction industry and planned federal construction investments.”
“Federal dollars should be used to create good jobs in local communities all across our country,” said U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh in a prepared statement. “These proposed regulations are good for workers, good for building high-quality infrastructure and for ensuring we have a strong construction industry, as we rebuild America.”
Building trades leaders praised the DOL announcement.
“NABTU commends the Biden Administration for today’s proposal to bring the Davis-Bacon Act’s 41-year-old regulations into the 21st century,” said North America’s Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey in a prepared statement. “The Davis-Bacon wage floor prevents cut-throat bidding practices from driving down local area labor standards on over $200 billion in federal and federally assisted projects that annually employ over 1.2 million U.S. construction workers.”
The proposed regulatory changes will enhance the department’s ability to administer and enforce Davis Bacon more effectively and efficiently.
The proposed changes include:
- Creating several efficiencies in the Prevailing Wage update system and ensuring Prevailing Wage rates keep up with actual wages, which over time would mean higher wages for workers.
- Returning to the definition of “Prevailing Wage” used from 1935 to 1983 to ensure Prevailing Wages reflect actual wages paid to workers in the local community.
- Periodically updating Prevailing Wage rates to address out-of-date wage determinations.
- Providing broader authority to adopt state or local wage determinations when certain criteria is met.
- Issuing supplemental rates for key job classifications when no survey data exists.
- Updating the regulatory language to better reflect modern construction practices.
- Strengthening worker protections and enforcement, including debarment and anti-retaliation.
These changes will likely result in higher wages for construction workers working on projects under Davis-Bacon. At some point, the Prevailing Wage will actually be calculated with current wages.