Labor Department Starts to Issue Weatherization Prevailing-Wage Guidance

As the national economy struggles to start a rebound, one logjam in the Recovery Act spending pipeline is starting to break open: confusion around the stimulus package's requirement for contractors to pay "prevailing wages" to their employees, as called for in the federal Davis-Bacon Act. The prevailing wage requirement applies, for example, to the $5 billion of spending poured into state low-income weatherization programs — a big opportunity for home improvement contractors. But up until now, "weatherization worker" is not one of the labor categories included in official Department of Labor (DOL) listings for prevailing wage rates. And in low-income weatherization, one worker might do glazing work, plastering work, insulating, or carpentry, all in one morning. In theory, this could require the boss to track the precise hours allocated to each type of task, and pay four different "prevailing wages" for one day's labor — a paperwork nightmare. To address that issue, the Department of Labor set out early this year to collect data on wage rates for real employees in the world of weatherization, and establish a new range of allowable wage scales for "weatherization workers," county by county, for the entire USA. The DOL has just released its official scale for the first three states: the Atlantic Coast states of Maine, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. A quick look indicates that the wage scales are not likely to shock anyone as excessive. In Maine, for instance, an all-purpose "weatherization worker" doing minor repairs, insulation, weather-stripping, and light-bulb installation would be entitled to a base wage of $12.50 to about $16.00 in most counties, plus benefits ranging from $0.85 to $4.82. Specialized skilled workers would make more, however, with an HVAC duct mechanic earning hourly pay of $19.31 plus benefits of $12.61. As more state wage rates are released, the uncertainty over how much contractors must pay will recede. However, the tracking and reporting requirements still pose a learning curve for small employers who are unfamiliar with government contracting work. For official information on the stimulus weatherization program and the Davis-Bacon rules that apply, start at this Department of Energy website.