The U.S. Dept. of Labor plans to hold two conferences this month on prevailing wage rules for New York and New Jersey areas hard hit by Superstorm Sandy. The N.Y. conference is set for June 20-21 at Long Island's Stony Brook University, and the N.J. meeting is scheduled for June 26-27 at the Atlantic City Convention Center.
The conferences spotlight a major area of concern for some industry professionals who contend that contractors will likely encounter more DOL officers showing up at their sites to enforce prevailing wage rules. They say this will be the case especially beginning in late summer or early fall when the public sector prepares to offer more Superstorm Sandy reconstruction work.
The New York state DOL says it has no specific plans related to ramping up inspection activities this fall, but that does not convince all industry players.
Given the high-profile nature of the post-Sandy work and the government source of funding, contractors in the tristate region should be prepared for DOL to have a "heightened vigilance against cheating" and take a zero-tolerance approach in prosecuting violators, says Eric Su, a partner at New York-based law firm Tarter Krinsky & Drogin LLP, who represents both union and non-union firms.
Su says workers at sites can expect to be questioned on whether they are aware that the job is a public project and on whether they know their hourly wage. Wrong answers will be a red flag and trigger an investigation, he says.
Officers will also check to see that every contractor on the project, not just the GC, posts all mandatory wage schedules and public work notices. "The GC has an obligation to make sure that the subs comply," Su says. Failure of any party to post the proper notices in plain sight for workers is a violation that snags a lot of firms, he adds.
"Based on our experience, nine out of 10 contractors don't have the proper notices posted, and the GCs don't know that each of their subcontractors must have separate notices posted for their workers," Su says.
The aim is to ensure that government funds are being put to proper use and that firms are not violating prevailing wage laws, the Fair Labor Standards Act and other labor laws, Su says.
Some union contractor associations say they would welcome increased scrutiny. Jack Kocsis Jr., COO of the New Jersey chapters of both the Building Contractors Association and the Associated General Contractors, says his groups have met with state DOL and Dept. of Community Affairs officials to push for prevailing wage rule enforcement. "It's in our best interest to make sure everybody's playing by the same rules," he says. New Jersey, he adds, has some of the strongest prevailing wage laws nationwide.
"We're more concerned that the local public agencies, which this money is flowing to, are adhering to the public bidding laws," Kocsis says.
Sandy reconstruction work will remain in both the media and public spotlight for some time to come, Su says. "The government doesn't want to be embarrassed," he adds. Also, officials will "start from scratch by being there from the get-go when the job goes out for bid."
Chris White, a NYS DOL spokesman, said in a statement that the agency recognizes the need to be vigilant in times of natural disasters and that "we allocate staff resources as needed in order to protect against instances of fraud and abuse."