As the $1.2 trillion federal infrastructure package kicks into gear and states and cities enact more progressive employment statutes, a 4-year-old decision that opened the door for private litigation on Davis-Bacon Act-related prevailing wages is worth revisiting, attorneys said.
A District of Columbia federal court's August 2018 decision in Garcia v. Skanska U.S. Bldg., Inc. was significant because the federal 1931 Davis-Bacon Act, which covers federally funded public works projects of more than $2,000, does not provide workers with a private right of action.
The district court determined that workers can pursue claims for unpaid prevailing wages and fringe benefits under D.C. wage laws instead of going through the U.S. Department of Labor. …
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When it comes to prevailing wages work, there has been confusion about which rights are enforceable in court versus through the DOL, said Paul DeCamp, a former administrator for the DOL's Wage and Hour Division and a member of management-side firm Epstein Becker & Green PC.
In her decision, Judge Friedrich wrote that "there is a difference between the lack of a private right of action and a congressional intent to foreclose other, extant rights of action," she said.
"That the DBA lacks a private right of action of its own, it does not follow that Congress intended to shut down all other avenues of relief," she added.
DeCamp said Skanska provides some clarity on which rights can be enforced in court: claims that deal with the failure to pay promised wages. It becomes like a contract claim, he said.
"As long as the basic proposition remains about state law remedies for breach of contract, for failure to pay promised wages … and are not displaced by the Davis-Bacon Act, I think plaintiffs have a fairly robust complete set of remedies in a situation where there's an alleged nonpayment," he said. …
Beyond D.C. Infrastructure …
And although Skanska was just a trial court decision, other courts may look to it and find the reasoning persuasive, DeCamp said.
"I do think that it's likely that many courts, most courts perhaps, would follow Skanska at least with respect to the state wage claims," he said. "What the plaintiffs really want is the promised wages and associated overtime and that's something that they can typically get under the state laws."