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PSeptember 20, 2011

Part I: What is a Davis Bacon?

What is a Davis Bacon? The better question should be who is Davis and who is Bacon? The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 requires that ”prevailing wages “ be paid on all federal government contracts for construction. The act is named after its sponsors, James J. Davis, a senator from Pennsylvania, and Representative Robert Bacon of Long Island, NY. Notable factoid…they were both Republicans!

Eighty years ago in the height of the Great Depression this act was born, fueled by the tenet that federal projects should be built by local workers. That was then.  Today, it is held as a sacred lamb for union construction workers regardless of where they hang their hard hat. So let’s talk numbers. Below are selected rates in New Castle County for building construction:

1. Brick Layer Base Wage Rate $28.00 + Fringes $17.03 totaling $45.03

2. Carpenter Base Wage Rate $29.82 + Fringes $18.04 totaling $47.86

3. Electrician Base Wage Rate $35.00 + Fringes $23.70 totaling $58.70

4. Ironworker Base Wage Rate $31.60 + Fringes $23.90 totaling $55.50

5. *Plumbers/Fitters Base Wage Rate $35.03 + Fringes $27.10 totaling $62.13

6. Sheet Metal Base Wage Rate $32.27 + Fringes $31.47 totaling $63.74

7. Unskilled Laborer Base Wage Rate $22.80 + Fringes $13.30 totaling $36.10

* Average wage for projects over and under 3 Million.

Average Total Wage with Fringes $52.72 Annualized at $109,657.

Surprised? Did you know that Delaware’s own prevailing wages for all state funded work are similar to Davis Bacon? Construction is the only business where the government sets trade wages on public work. Can you imagine the outcry if the government set wage determinations for attorneys or lobbyist or political pundits?

Our industry has lived with this requirement for 80 years but every once in a while we need to shout out our frustrations. At least I do.

This is Part I of a two part series on the effect of Davis Bacon for all government funded construction projects. You can catch Part II later this week as it relates to President Obama’s American Jobs Act.

Good references:




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