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Department of Labor and Prevailing Wages for Land Surveyors

transitman
(@transitman)
10+ posts Member

I have been reviewing some US Department of Labor material in regard to the need for Land Surveyors to be paid prevailing wages.  As I understand it the requirement for prevailing wages triggers certified payroll.  Put differently, without prevailing wages there is no need for certified payroll.

From on-line Dept. of Labor material it seems that:

  1. People who function in an administrative/professional capacity and are salaried, and not hourly, are not covered by prevailing wages. To me this means that if a professional land surveyor does some surveying on a construction site he or she is exempt from the prevailing wages and certified payroll requirements under federal labor law, assuming a normal contract for the work.
  2. For Land Surveying to be considered prevailing wages/certified payroll work the surveying needs to be done as a part of the actual construction effort, such as construction staking, as-builts, construction certification, etc. Preliminary boundary, topographic work intended to produce a ‘base map’ for further design effort by others (e.g., by engineers, architects, etc.) is not prevailing wages/certified payroll work.

If anyone wants I can provide documentation for the above.  My understanding seems out of line with how prevailing wages/certified payroll work is actually administered in my state, California.  So if anyone has any comments on this subject, even from a different state, I would appreciate it if they could post them.

States play a part in administering the DOL (Department of Labor) rules/laws.  In California this is done through the DIR (Department of Industrial Relations), but I believe that everything ultimately goes back to DOL and Davis Bacon.

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Topic starter Posted : November 24, 2021 2:17 pm
Jim Frame
(@jim-frame)
5,000+ posts Member
Posted by: @transitman

As I understand it the requirement for prevailing wages triggers certified payroll.

In California it means you *may* have to submit a certified payroll.  It depends on the procedures of the agency overseeing the project.  I've done a lot of PW jobs, but have only had to submit certified payroll documents a handful of times.

Posted by: @transitman

everything ultimately goes back to DOL and Davis Bacon.

CA has a Little Davis Bacon law, and DIR is the agency in charge.  Don't mess with them, it never turns out well.

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Posted : November 24, 2021 3:10 pm
MightyMoe
(@mightymoe)
5,000+ posts Supporter

I'm exempt.

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Posted : November 24, 2021 4:39 pm

FrozenNorth
(@frozennorth)
500+ posts Member

Keep in mind last year's decision.  The practical effect in my region is that field surveyors on federal projects do not need to be paid prevailing wage.  Field surveyors on state/municipal projects must still be paid prevailing wage because of state statute (Little Davis Bacon Act).

https://www.agc.org/news/2021/01/21/dol-overturns-davis-bacon-coverage-rule-surveyors

https://www.nsps.us.com/page/DavisBacon

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Posted : November 24, 2021 4:56 pm
Jim Frame
(@jim-frame)
5,000+ posts Member
Posted by: @mightymoe

I'm exempt.

It depends on what you mean by "exempt."  In CA an owner-operator (in my case, a self-employed professional) isn't required by law to pay himself prevailing wages on a PW project, but is still required to comply with apprenticeship requirements and make contributions to the training fund.  This means that -- in theory (more on that later) -- when I'm preparing to start a PW job I have to request an apprentice from the union.  The union never sends one (they never even acknowledge the request) because the PW jobs I take on are too small (lasting at most a couple of weeks) to make dispatching an apprentice worthwhile, but I have to document the request and provide that documentation to the contracting agency.

I say "in theory" because most of the agencies I work with don't ask for the information.  The only one that ever did had instituted a labor compliance program that used LCPTracker, which includes certified payroll management.  It was a real pain to use, especially because it didn't know how to accommodate an owner-operator.  I had to certify that I was paying myself prevailing wages and benefits, even though I'm a sole proprietor and therefore don't draw a wage or salary.  It would take me a couple of hours every week to gather all the required data and then falsify the wage and benefit payments that I don't make to myself.  Thankfully, that agency has since dropped the labor compliance program entirely, and I'm hopeful that they won't revive it.

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Posted : November 25, 2021 8:55 am
RPlumb314
(@rplumb314)
200+ posts Member

Minnesota has a mini Davis Bacon law, in Chapter 177 of the statutes. About a dozen years ago there was a problem when the state agency involved, DOLI (Department of Labor and Industry) began arbitrarily and randomly classifying field techs as construction laborers and requiring them to receive PW. Often this was done after the fact and without warning, and survey firms had payments held up on their State contracts. This was resolved, after a fashion, by setting up a new job classification for field techs. Licensed individuals are exempt.

Chances are that many other states have similar laws. They won't automatically change just because the Feds create an exemption.

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Posted : November 26, 2021 4:53 pm

FairbanksLS
(@fairbanksls)
200+ posts Member

..

 

 

This post was modified 1 week ago by FairbanksLS
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Posted : November 26, 2021 9:23 pm
John Putnam
(@john-putnam)
1,000+ posts Member

While I do not actively seek out construction layout work, I do a bit of it on request in both Oregon & Washington.  Washington does have a classification for surveyors while Oregon does not.  In Oregon a tech fall under as laborers' rate and PCs fall under power equipment operators' rate.  I wish Oregon would adopt a classification for us just so that we, as business owners, were able to partake in the annual wage rate survey that is used to determine the rates.  It would also make it a little easier to look up rates.

Both states have a fairly simple formula to determine when the rates begin, after the construction contract is let.  Just because you are an owner operator, or licensed does not make you exempt.  Though in Oregon if you work less than 20% of a week on the PW job you do not need to pay PW.  In Washington the certified payroll is filed on line which is kind of nice.  Also, neither state requires me to us apprentices.  Neither require the crews be union although some project have a labor agreement with the union which requires anyone I use to at least pay a little tribute to them.

On the whole topic of PW, I cannot figure out for the life of me why we, as a group, are so against it.  It kind of levels the playing field.  The low-ballers can lowball, your employees are making a decent wage that may actually keep them in the profession and your potential profits are greater if you use the same % on the PW versus minimum wage.

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Posted : November 28, 2021 7:26 am
Ric Moore
(@ric-moore)
500+ posts Member

Land surveyors should not be subject to prevailing wage jobs for public works projects.  It is so contradictory to the notion of this being a profession.

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Posted : November 29, 2021 10:05 am

FrozenNorth
(@frozennorth)
500+ posts Member

@ric-moore Maybe, but we cut off our nose to spite our face.  The result of excluding surveyors from prevailing wage is that surveyors often end up being the lowest-paid people on site.  I think better to compromise and allow field surveyors to be included in prevailing wage categories.  This has been common in Alaska for 45 years and has strengthened the profession (in my opinion) by providing something of a wage floor.

If local owner/operator PLS tries to pay his new chainman starvation wages on residential work, that chainman may just disappear to gradehop on a public construction job.  This competition with the prevailing wage jobs has helped keep surveyor wages reasonable in Alaska.

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Posted : November 29, 2021 11:01 am
dmyhill
(@dmyhill)
1,000+ posts Supporter

@frozennorth 

I agree with you. The concept is that if you are management, then you may not be PW. But not every PLS is management. 

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Posted : November 29, 2021 11:41 am
Ric Moore
(@ric-moore)
500+ posts Member

@frozennorth - I see your points and its well taken.  However from my experiences its not only about the hourly rate on a project.  Its about the surveyors being true professional consultants to clients.  Of course, I also recognize that less than half the states include construction staking (or much of any other related task) within the definition of land surveying.

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Posted : November 29, 2021 3:50 pm

John Putnam
(@john-putnam)
1,000+ posts Member

Okay, I have put my nomax on and am ready for a good flaming.  Surveying is a profession but when the rubber hits the ground we often utilize non-licensed employees, under our direct professional supervision, to perform tasks in the field that approach labor.  It is those tasks that deserve a prevailing wage.  While I do receive PW when staking, it does not apply when I am providing my professional expertise or analysis on the project.

I can not tell you how many licensed crew chiefs I know that jumped ship to become a grade check on the jobs we were laying out because of the pay difference.  This was all prior to PW for surveyors.  We were always the lowest paid people on a job site.

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Posted : November 29, 2021 6:03 pm
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