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

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