Loudoun supervisors are considering a new ordinance that would require county construction contractors to pay the regional prevailing wage as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor.
A new state law permits the county to require construction contractors on public works products to pay their workers the prevailing wage established federally per the Davis-Bacon Act. The county’s ordinance, as it is being considered, would mirror the existing state prevailing wage requirement, which applies to contracts worth over $250,000. Contracts who pay their workers less would be liable to workers for backpay and damages and barred from future public works projects until they have paid full restitution. If they did so intentionally, they could be guilty of a Class I misdemeanor.
“The concern I have is cost and whether this is even necessary, because I suspect that in our market, contractors, given the tight market, are already paying prevailing wage,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). He also pointed to Department of Labor Office of the Inspector General reports that found problems with the department’s work to establish wage rates, with some going for decades without updates or based on inadequate data.
“In fact there are even concerns about equity […] The origins of it were used to keep certain contractors from not getting certain projects,” Letourneau said. “So I’m not particularly eager to go down this path, particularly I think when we end up competing int the market for projects, that we’re probably ending up with projects that are getting this type of wage anyway. But it is a requirement, and it’s a bureaucratic process that will add time and will make it more difficult to complete our [Capital Improvement Plan] process.”
But other supervisors pointed to recent studies indicating that prevailing wage laws are tied to smaller wage gaps between white and Black construction workers.
“Whatever is going on with the outdated processes and procedures, there’s a fairly overwhelming body of studies that are current that suggests prevailing wage helps workers, helps minorities, and makes construction costs fairer and more economical in the long run,” said Supervisor Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn). “You ought to pay people the prevailing wage, and if we’ve got problems with the prevailing wage calculation, then at the very least those problems apply to everybody, and prevailing wage still levels the playing field.”
Supervisors voted July 6 to hear more information about a possible prevailing wage rule in Loudoun 7-1-1, with Letourneau opposed and Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) absent.