Labor Department Updates Law in Big Win for Building Trades Workers Nationwide

By Alex Weber | editor in chief

Thanks to a crucial and long-overdue regulatory update recently announced by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), building and construction trades workers throughout the Bay Area and across the United States should soon enjoy a healthy wage bump — and, hopefully, a higher standard of living as a result.

Under guidance from the Biden administration, the DOL on Tuesday, August 8, officially instated new regulations to the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931. That’s the federal law that requires prevailing local wages be paid on public works projects.

This is the first comprehensive regulatory review of Davis-Bacon in four decades. The DOL’s Davis-Bacon rules update “will promote compliance, provide appropriate and updated guidance, and enhance their usefulness in the modern economy,” according to the DOL.

Most notably, the new DOL rule mandates a return to the definition of “prevailing wage” that had been used from 1935 until it was killed by Republican lawmakers in 1983. According to the DOL, this change will ensure that prevailing wages reflect actual wages paid to workers in the local community. Additionally, those rates will be periodically updated to address out-of-date wage determinations.

More than 1 million construction workers with jobs on roughly $200 billion worth of federally supported projects will benefit from these new rules, according to the Associated Press.

None of this would have been possible without encouragement from the Biden administration. On August 8, Vice-President Kamala Harris announced the Davis-Bacon overhaul in Philadelphia at the IUPAT’s Finishing Trades Institute of the Mid-Atlantic Region, which serves as regional headquarters for union apprenticeship programs in glazing, drywall installation, painting, and more.

According to the Daily Labor Report, Harris said the update to the law was part of the Biden administration’s broader strategy of boosting the economy by targeting investments toward working people.

“President Biden and I decided to run for office because we believed it was time to fix all of this and to finally rebuild America, to repair our roads and bridges, to connect every home with high-speed internet, to replace every lead pipe in our nation, and to expand clean energy production,” Harris said.

“So, that’s why we are here today,” she said. “As many of you know, for nearly a century, wages for workers on federal projects have been set by a law called the Davis-Bacon Act. So, Davis-Bacon standards help determine the hourly wage for millions of American workers — union workers and non-union workers alike.

“But here is the problem: Those standards have not been updated for 40 years, and, as a result, many workers are paid much less than they deserve, much less than the value of their work, and not just by a little — in some cases, by thousands of dollars a year. That is wrong, obviously, and completely unacceptable in a Biden-Harris administration.”

North American Building Trades Unions President Sean McGarvey weighed in on the Davis-Bacon update through a statement issued shortly after Harris’s speech.

“We applaud the Biden-Harris administration for its relentless commitment to invest in America and for upholding laws to pay American workers fairly as part of that commitment,” he wrote. “[August 8’s] DOL final rule strengthens federal prevailing wage regulations and restores the law to its original intent after it has been watered down over the last 40-plus years. This ruling is a win for all construction workers, both union and non-union, for good and fair contractors, and for America’s taxpayers.”

IUPAT General President Jimmy Williams Jr. also issued a statement in support of the DOL’s Davis-Bacon rule update.

“Today, the Biden-Harris administration has once again demonstrated their commitment to putting workers at the center of economic policy with the announcement of a long overdue update to the Davis-Bacon Act,” he wrote. “This change is arguably the most significant and impactful to our pay in the trades in over 40 years, and it reverses the Reagan-era rule that redefined prevailing wage to help bosses, not workers.”

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