Davis Bacon Wages: A Detailed Guide to Federal Prevailing Wage Law (Rates and More) for 2024

Need to understand Davis Bacon wages to keep your company and its workforce compliant? Our detailed guide has everything to get you started!

The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 is a federal law requiring contractors, subcontractors, and employers awarded contracts for federally funded projects to pay workers in specific localities a minimum hourly prevailing wage.

These are known as Davis-Bacon wages and apply across the board in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

The Davis-Bacon Act has been amended several times since 1931, but it still applies to all contractors and subcontractors working on public projects funded by the federal government in excess of $2,000.

Today’s post covers everything you need to know about the Davis-Bacon Act, from its history and purpose to wage determination and enforcement.

We’ll also show you the best compliance strategies and how you can maximize your Davis-Bacon Act benefits.

Without further ado, let’s jump straight into it.

What Are Davis-Bacon Wages?

Davis-Bacon wages are a cluster term for the prevailing wage rates stipulated in the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931.

This is a standard minimum rate contractors must pay specific workers for public works projects in their locality, consisting of the hourly prevailing wage, plus fringe benefits. These wage rates vary depending on the locality and type of occupation.

Origin of the Davis-Bacon Wage Act

The Davis-Bacon Act is one of several key end results of the tide of labor laws passed in the late 1800s, often thought of as the “social legislation package.”

Kansas was the first state to introduce prevailing wage laws in 1891. However, it was only after the depression of 1910 that federal wage laws came into play.

During earlier depressions, unemployment often rose much higher than it does today – a quarter of the country was unemployed during the Great Depression, for example.

The lack of jobs left many workers desperate for work. Unethical contractors would seize this opportunity to lowball workers, paying meager salaries. Workers, being in a much weaker negotiating position, almost always agreed to these unfair terms to make ends meet.

 These unscrupulous tactics were harmful not only to workers but also to the economy. The low pay decreased the workers’ spending power, and with no money in circulation, the economy simply kept getting worse.

In 1931, Robert Bacon introduced his prevailing wage bill to Congress for a completely different reason. Bacon was angered by the influx of Southern contractors who employed non-unionized cheap labor predominantly of African-American descent.

Southern contractors would undercut state contractors by bidding with low quotes, as it was law to award contracts to the “lowest qualified bid.”

The Davis-Bacon Act was thus meant to level the playing field and prevent unfair competition from Southern contractors.

On March 3, 1931, President Herbert Hoover signed the Davis-Bacon Act into law. This made it mandatory for all contractors and subcontractors to pay minimum prevailing wages for federally funded public works.

Key Objectives of the Davis-Bacon Act

The Davis-Bacon Act was met with little fanfare after its enactment. That’s because, on the surface, all it seemed to do was to increase government spending, which appeared counterintuitive. However, the law had several objectives:

Promote Fair Wages

Davis-Bacon Act was principally designed to ensure fairness in wage payment across the board.

Without it, contractors would exploit laborers, paying them low rates while they rake in big profits. The Davis-Bacon Act ensured that the wages of all qualifying workers aligned with the local labor market.

Protect and Promote Local Employment

A lack of prevailing wage laws made it easier for out-of-state contractors to outbid local contractors with low quotations, decreasing job opportunities for local laborers, mechanics, and other blue-collar workers.

The Davis-Bacon Act promotes local employment, forcing contractors to hire skilled workers from the local community.

Maintaining High Workmanship Standards

The phrase “you get what you pay for” holds in the construction industry.

Cheap rates attract poor talent with minimal training and shoddy workmanship. This significantly compromises the quality of work, leading to substandard infrastructure with short lifespans.

The Davis-Bacon Act attracts top-tier talent to maintain excellent standards of workmanship, enhancing the quality, safety, and longevity of public infrastructure.

Stimulate the Local Economy

The Davis-Bacon Act was enacted during a time of economic turmoil.

The Act ensured that workers received compensation that matched the local labor standard. In doing so, they would have greater spending power and increase support for local businesses. The legislation was thus an artificial way for the country to prop up its economy.

Impact of the Davis-Bacon Act on Workers, Employers, and the Construction Industry

Key players in the construction industry opposed the Davis-Bacon Act at its inception.

For starters, the legislation seemed to discriminate against minority workers. It also increased the administrative burden for contractors and was seen as a federal distortion of the local labor markets.

Impact on Workers

Workers are at the core of the Davis-Bacon Act. It was introduced to ensure local workers receive a fair wage and contractors prioritize local over out-of-state workers.

Higher wages have improved workers’ living standards and quality of life. Thanks to this act, construction workers, mechanics, and laborers can afford to buy homes and support their families.

Impact on Employers

While workers have largely benefitted from the Davis-Bacon Act, it has been a double-edged sword for employers.

On the positive side, the act has whittled out harmful competition from cheap out-of-state contractors and encouraged fair competition among businesses.

It has also improved labor standards and quality of work by attracting skilled labor with its financial incentive. Despite these positives, this legislation has its drawbacks for employers.

For starters, employers have to pay more to comply with the requirements of the Davis-Bacon Act. They also incur extra costs when hiring legal and HR experts or expanding their IT infrastructure to ensure compliance. Higher wages typically decrease profit margins as well, especially in competitive industries like construction, in which winning bids are nearly always attached to the least expensive proposals.

Employers must also be extra keen on management and training to maintain high labor standards in a competitive market.

Impact on the Construction Industry

The Davis Bacon Act has had a double-sided impact on the construction industry.

On the bright side, increased wages attract better talent, ensuring high standards of workmanship, which translates to quality infrastructure across the board.

A study by Beacon Hill Institute in 2022 found that the Davis-Bacon Act increased the costs of construction projects by 7.2%. It also raised the standard wage of construction workers by 20.2% compared to the local labor market, indicating contractors struggling to translate higher labor costs into similarly strong profit margins.

Determining and Enforcing Davis-Bacon Wages

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) determines Davis-Bacon wages. The DOL conducts extensive surveys and liaises with relevant stakeholders to determine these wage rates, which are subject to change annually to better reflect current economic conditions.

Davis-Bacon wage laws are stipulated under Section 3141 of Title 40 of the United States Code. Under this act, all contractors and subcontractors awarded public works contracts exceeding $2,000 must pay the required prevailing wage for all qualifying employees involved in public construction works.

Contractors awarded prime contracts (contracts exceeding \$100,000) must also pay all workers, including security guards, an overtime wage for all work hours exceeding 40 in a work week.

This overtime is to be paid at one and a half times the standard wage rate under the provisions of the Contract Work Hours and Safety Standards Act (CWHSSA). Requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act may also apply.

How Is the Prevailing Wage Calculated?

The DOL is responsible for determining the prevailing wage rates of various localities. In the past, the agency took a two-step approach to wage determination. However, before determining any wages, it must first classify all workers into their respective classifications.

After classification, the DOL determines if there’s a single wage rate paid to more than 50% of the workers. If so, this wage becomes the prevailing wage rate. The DOL then promulgates the weighted average of all rates paid for the specific classification, which then becomes the prevailing wage rate.

Under current law, the DOL takes a three-pronged approach to calculating the prevailing wages.

Instead of taking the wage paid to 50% or more of workers in a specific classification, it takes the wage paid to 30% or more as the prevailing wage. If there’s no single wage rate paid to more than 30% of the workers, the department uses the weighted average of all wages paid to workers in the same classification.

The DOL is also responsible for calculating payable fringe benefits.

If no more than 50% of the workers receive fringe benefits, then no worker is eligible to receive fringe benefits (zero-rate fringe benefits). On the other hand, if more than 50% of workers in a specific classification receive fringe benefits, then only those receiving them qualify for fringe benefits. The 50%/30% principle mentioned above will apply when determining fringe benefits.

What Role Does the Department of Labor Play in Determining Federal Prevailing Wages?

The Department of Labor, through its Wage and Hour Division (WHD), plays an integral role in the determination and enforcement of Davis Bacon wages. Some of its key responsibilities include:

Surveys and Data Collection

The DOL conducts extensive surveys to determine the current wages paid to workers in various applications. This usually involves consultations with labor and employer organizations and reviewing various collective bargaining agreements for conclusive data.

Data Analysis and Calculation

Collecting data is only the first step. Next, the Wage and Hour Division must analyze the data and calculate the prevailing wages of different localities.

This process takes into account factors like the current industry wages, skill level, experience, and training costs.

Publication of Prevailing Wages

After calculating the prevailing wages, the DOL is legally obligated to publish the prevailing wage rates for various occupations and localities. These wage rates will be published on the DOL’s website and the federal register.

Contractors can find information on the current wage rates on the following platforms:

Enforcement and Compliance

The DOL is also responsible for ensuring contractors comply with the Davis-Bacon Act, by ensuring Davis-Bacon wage clauses are included in all federal contracts and guides qualifying contractors with compliance issues. The DOL also conducts audits and investigations and processes claims from workers, ensuring full compliance.

Common Challenges the Department of Labor Faces When Enforcing Davis-Bacon Wages

Some common challenges the DOL faces when enforcing Davis-Bacon wages include:

Compliance Monitoring

Monitoring Davis-Bacon compliance is a primary role of the Department of Labor. However, prevailing wages vary widely based on location and type of construction work, making it difficult to establish accurate rates that reflect the local labor market.

Contractor Non-Compliance

Some contractors may intentionally attempt to evade Davis-Bacon wage requirements by misclassifying workers, falsifying payroll records, or engaging in other forms of wage theft.

Detecting and addressing such non-compliance can be challenging for the DOL, especially when contractors operate in multiple jurisdictions or have close ties with state administration.

Want to ensure your company stays compliant with prevailing wage laws in California – or in any other state? Try Workyard!

With Workyard, you can…

Click the links above to discover how Workyard can help handle your payroll compliance needs, or go to the link below to start a fully-featured 14-day free trial today:

Ensure payroll compliance and better manage your workforce with Workyard

Legal Disputes

It’s not uncommon for private contractors to sue the Department of Labor for contravention of obscure aspects of the Davis-Bacon Act.

Disputes over prevailing wage rates, fringe benefits, and other Davis-Bacon compliance issues can result in costly litigation and administrative proceedings. Resolving these disputes costs time, organizational resources, and legal expenses.

Complexity of Regulations

The Davis-Bacon Act and related regulations are complex and can be difficult for contractors and subcontractors to understand and implement correctly. This complexity can lead to unintentional violations and disputes over wage calculations and fringe benefits.

Unintentional violations and misunderstandings can lead to bad blood between contractors and the Department of Labor.

Dynamic Economic Conditions

Factors like labor supply, construction activity, and Fed interest can have a ripple effect on the labor market. This makes it more difficult to determine prevailing wage rates. It may also lead to drastic changes in these rates that some contractors may find unfair.

Compliance and Maximizing Benefits

Contractors, subcontractors, and employers are legally obligated to comply with all requirements of the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts. However, prevailing wage law is complex and ever-changing, making compliance a challenge for most.

Here are some strategies to help contractors ensure compliance and avoid legal repercussions.

Staying Informed and Up-to-Date

Contractors should strive to keep themselves informed on the latest developments concerning the Davis-Bacon Act and related prevailing wage laws, especially on any updates or changes to regulations and prevailing wage rates.

Reviewing guidance and resources provided by the U.S. DOL will help them stay in the loop and improve their understanding of compliance requirements.

Ensure Records Are Accurate and Up-to-Date

Contractors and subcontractors must also maintain accurate and detailed records of all hours worked, wages paid, and fringe benefits provided to workers on federally funded projects. They should implement robust payroll systems and procedures to track labor costs and ensure compliance with prevailing wage rates.

This also involves properly classifying workers according to their job duties and responsibilities, ensuring they are paid the appropriate prevailing wage rates for their respective job classifications.

Conduct Regular Audits and Streamline Internal Controls

Contractors must conduct regular audits and internal reviews of payroll records, timekeeping systems, and subcontractor documentation to identify and address potential compliance issues proactively. They should also implement internal controls and procedures to prevent errors, discrepancies, and instances of non-compliance.

Maintain Open Communication With Workers

Simple misunderstandings between workers and contractors can lead to hefty fines on the part of the contractors for non-willful violations.

That’s why contractors should maintain open lines of communication with workers, subcontractors, labor unions, and government agencies involved in the project.  Encourage employees to report concerns or Davis-Bacon wage violations and address such issues promptly and with transparency.

Be Keen on Subcontractor Oversight

Contractors should also implement mechanisms to monitor and oversee subcontractors to ensure their compliance with Davis-Bacon wage requirements. For instance, including provisions in subcontract agreements requiring subcontractors to adhere to prevailing wage laws and provide compliance documentation is a basic, but legally essential, step.

Seek Legal Counsel

To avoid legal ramifications, it’s vital to seek guidance from legal counsel or compliance experts in prevailing wage laws and regulations.

Obtain legal advice on complex compliance issues, dispute resolution, and representation in the event of audits or investigations by government agencies.

Contractors looking to make the most of the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts (DBRA) can consider:

Tips for Workers to Ensure They Receive Fair Wages Under the DBRA

The DBRA is a worker-centric legislation. However, some contractors may still underpay workers and directly contravene this law. Here are a few ways workers can ensure proper compensation under the Davis-Bacon Act:

What Role Do Unions and Other Organizations Play in Supporting Davis-Bacon Act Enforcement?

Unions and labor organizations are the collective voice of workers during the wage determination process. Some critical roles in the Davis-Bacon wage process include:

Unions and labor organizations are the collective voice of workers during the wage determination process. Some critical roles in the Davis-Bacon wage process include:

Recent Developments and Future Outlook of the Davis-Bacon Act

Like many laws, the Davis-Bacon Act has been amended several times to address compliance issues and promote equality, among other reasons.

Some of the most notable changes under the Davis-Bacon and Related Acts final rule, as indicated in AAM244, include:

A Change to the Definition of the Term “Prevailing Wage”

Under the final rule, the term “prevailing wage” is any rate that contractors in a locality pay to the majority of the workers from whom usable data is obtained.

A Change in the Scope of Consideration for Geographical Area

The final rule also revised the scope of geographical area for consideration. Previously, data from metropolitan areas were excluded when making wage determinations for rural areas and vice-versa.

Recent changes have removed this rule, but only for areas with insufficient wage data in neighboring localities.

Periodic Revision to Wage Rates

The final rule mandates the Wage and Hour Division to adjust wage determinations for non-collectively bargained wages to match the prevailing rate in the particular locality.

These adjustments should happen no more than once in three years and only more than three years after the rates are published.

The future looks bright for workers under the most recent changes to the Davis-Bacon Act. Workers are expected to get even higher wages, with general increases in Davis-Bacon wages, to match union wages better.

Coverage is also set to increase, meaning more workers, including certain delivery workers and technicians, will now qualify for prevailing wages.

Conclusion on Davis-Bacon Wages

The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 is a historic piece of legislation. Its more recent changes extend even more benefits to workers, which have been welcomed by labor organizations nationwide.

The buck stops with contractors to ensure full compliance with DBRA regulations. Failure to do so may result in hefty fines, imprisonment, and even debarment.

Great software is the only real solution to labor law compliance challenges for many businesses. The right business management software tends to come with built-in compliance and recordkeeping rules, regardless of your industry, how many employees you have, what they do, or how widely they’re dispersed across the state (or country).

If you operate a construction or field services company, we humbly suggest trying Workyard for your compliance needs.

Workyard is built around the industry’s most accurate GPS tracking and geofencing technology, which ensures payroll accuracy across your workforce, no matter which job site you send them to or when you need them to work there. Workyard’s timesheet tracking system also comes with built-in federal and state overtime rules, as well as adjustable break rules you can customize at the employee level.

Workyard’s intuitive scheduling dashboard makes it easy to direct your workforce to the jobs you need to be done based on their skill sets, locations, availability, and (of course) weekly time worked. This allows you to avoid unnecessary overtime payments and reduce reimbursable travel expenses.

All of these tools work together to save you money. Thanks to seamless payroll processing integrations, you can minimize payroll waste, ensure regulatory compliance without lifting a finger, accurately assess project costs in real-time, and pay your team with ease.

Best of all, you can try it free for 14 days, so you can be sure it’s the right solution for your company. Just click here (or the buttons below) to get started today!

Did you find this post helpful? Please rate it!

1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)Loading...


Ensure Labor Law Compliance With Workyard

Free for 14 days. No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

More On This

U.S. Labor Laws: What They Are & Why They Matter

Labor laws protect employees and prevent employers from risk. Learn what the U.S. labor laws are in this guide designed for every business.

Read More

FLSA Recordkeeping Requirements: The Ultimate Employers Guide

Find out why FLSA requires employers to maintain accurate records in this employer's guide to FLSA recordkeeping requirements.

Read More

New York Labor Laws: A Complete Guide to Wages, Breaks, Overtime, and More (2024)

In this article, we’ll dive deep into New York’s labor laws, with details on all the important aspects of the state’s regulations on your employees.

Read More