In order to protect the rights of workers, New Jersey has established prevailing wage laws for laborers in certain industries. These laws are used to guarantee workers fair pay in certain workplaces. Specifically, the New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act (PWA) protects the rights of employees who are working for government contractors and subcontractors. In general, the PWA combats unfair labor practices by establishing a prevailing wage for workers who support public works. One of the main goals of the PWA is to to prevent government contractors from exploiting their workers by paying them unfairly. Additionally, the PWA helps protect the general public’s interest in the allocation of government tax dollars.
Under the PWA, the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development is required to establish a prevailing wage for various geographic regions throughout the state. Often, this wage is based on collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) in the area in which the work is performed. Once rates are established, the Commissioner issues prevailing rate tables that are made publicly available. Each county in the state of New Jersey has its own table. Each table then lists various types of jobs and experience levels along with each classification’s prevailing wage. For instance, a general laborer in Middlesex County can be paid between $23 and $29 per hour based on his experience level. A worker who serves as a site foreman is often entitled to a higher prevailing wage. Workers in other career fields may have different applicable rates. Rates are subject to change, so it is important that workers remain informed in order to ensure that they are being paid the correct amount.
In order to be covered by the PWA, a worker typically must be working under a qualifying contract. Usually, a qualifying contract must be valued at $2,000 or more, and at least 55% of the work must be done on government or public property. The size of the work site must also be at least 22,000 square feet. Contractors who bid on these types contracts must register with the state and pay applicable registration fees before being eligible to receive a contract. Registered contractors that have not had a PWA complaint within the past two years may be eligible to receive a fee reduction or a waiver.
In order to enforce the PWA, the New Jersey Division of Wage and Hour Compliance conducts routine site visits throughout the state. If an employer is found to be violating the PWA, there are often serious consequences. A violating contractor may be subject to fines of up to $1,000. Willful and continued violation of the PWA can result in imprisonment of up to 90 days.
Combined with other state laws, the PWA provides an employee working for a government contractor with substantial rights. For instance, if an employee has not been paid the appropriate rate and files a complaint, the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (CEPA) prohibits the employer from retaliating against the employee. Furthermore, both the PWA and the NJ Law Against Discrimination (LAD) prevent an employee from being paid an unfair wage on the basis of any protected characteristics such as race, religion, ancestry, gender, sexual orientation, disability, or military status.
Although the PWA intends to protect workers’ rights, many workers may not know if the PWA applies to them. Furthermore, the PWA’s wage tables may be difficult for many workers to interpret, and it may difficult to keep up with the current wage tables because they are adjusted periodically. There are many different types of job descriptions on each table, and determining which description properly describes your job may be confusing. An experienced lawyer can help you understand these complexities and help protect your rights in the event that your employer has violated the PWA.