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6 Things New Yorkers Should Know About Prevailing Wage

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February 13, 2012

A private contractor awarded a public contract for the construction or maintenance of a public project in New York State is required to pay employees a “prevailing wage.” Prevailing wage rates are determined for each locality and differ according to occupation, title, and other factors.

The requirement to pay prevailing wages to laborers, mechanics and other workers on public projects is set forth in the New York State Constitution. New York State Labor Law also mandates prevailing wages for all building service workers. The State Department of Labor establishes prevailing wages for most localities, but in New York City, they are determined by the City’s Office of the Comptroller.

The standard for the prevailing wage for an occupation is the wage level set by the relevant local collective bargaining agreement with at least 30 percent of trade union membership in each jurisdiction. But the process for determining prevailing wage is neither straightforward nor transparent; little information exists in the public record about how titles are determined or which collective bargaining agreements are used as the basis for mandating wages.

Proponents of prevailing wage argue it assures a decent quality of life for workers and a high quality of construction and services in government-owned facilities. Opponents say it drives up the cost of construction and makes many projects unaffordable. Several legislative initiatives have been advanced at the State and City level to extend prevailing wage requirements to public utilities, construction of affordable housing projects receiving 421- a tax exemptions and to private projects that receive government subsidies.