2023 Guide to Prevailing Wages for D.C. Construction Workers

 In Minimum Wage, Suing Your Boss, Wage Payment

An important message to drywallers, painters, carpenters, and other construction workers in the District of Columbia:

Don’t let yourself be underpaid on government construction projects!

Under federal law, contractors and subcontractors performing on federally funded or assisted public works projects (like schools, public housing, and court buildings) must pay workers no less than the locally prevailing wages for corresponding work on similar projects in the area.

And, on August 24, 2018, a federal judge ruled that D.C. construction workers may be able to sue their employers for unpaid prevailing wages on certain government projects—and potentially collect up to 4x what they’re owed.

Davis-Bacon poster at a construction work site

A Davis-Bacon poster at a construction work site.

What are prevailing wages?

Prevailing wages—sometimes known as Davis-Bacon wages, or confused with “union scale” or “scale wages” (escala in the Spanish-speaking community)—are the minimum wages set by the U.S. Department of Labor for construction workers on certain government projects. These wages are generally set pursuant to federal law under the Davis-Bacon Act.

Which government construction projects must pay workers prevailing wages?

Examples of government construction projects—also known as public works—on which workers must be paid prevailing wages include:

  • D.C. public schools
  • Public housing
  • Court buildings
  • Government offices

If you’re a D.C. worker on one of these projects, you may be entitled to prevailing wages.

What are prevailing wages for construction workers in D.C.?

Prevailing wages are set by the U.S. Department of Labor according to the type of construction project and the type of work that is being performed.

Some examples of recent prevailing wage rates (including fringe benefits) for construction workers in the District of Columbia:

  • Painters: $34.82 per hour
  • Carpenters (including most drywall workers): $40.79 per hour
  • Electricians: $63.46 per hour
  • Unskilled general laborers: $15.84 per hour

Do I need to be in a union to be paid prevailing wages?

No. You do not need to be part of a union to be entitled to prevailing wages on most government construction projects.

Can I sue my boss if I’m not paid prevailing wages?

Yes. If you were not paid prevailing wages on a construction project in D.C., you may now be able to pursue your claims for unpaid prevailing wages under the D.C. Wage Payment and Collection Law. That law provides for quadruple damages, and allows workers to sue both general contractors and subcontractors for their unpaid wages.

How do I know if I’m being paid properly? What do I do if I didn’t receive prevailing wages?

Prevailing wages are complicated. If you have worked on a government construction project in D.C. and think you might not have beenpaid properly, call us now for a free and confidential case evaluation. You may be entitled to 4x the amount of wages that you were underpaid.

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