New Jersey Prevailing Wage

The New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act (N.J. Stat. Ann. §34:11-56.25 et seq.) was enacted in 1964 to provide construction workers with livable wages on public works projects.  In particular, the Act establishes a prevailing wage level for laborers, craftsmen, and apprentices engaged in public work to safeguard the worker’s efficiency and general well-being [ref: Horn v. Serritella Bros., Inc., 190 N.J.Super. 280, 283, 463 A.2d 366 (App.Div.1983)].

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The prevailing wage rates applicable to each craft or trade are determined by the Commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development based on collective bargaining agreements, and such rates vary by county and by the type of work performed.

Workers who are not paid the proper prevailing wage rates for their work on public works projects can file a private lawsuit against their employer to recover their unpaid prevailing wages, plus costs and reasonable attorneys’ fees [Ref: N.J. Stat. Ann. §34:11-56.40].  Such lawsuits must be filed within six (6) years of the work being performed which was not paid properly [See Troise v. Extel Communs., 174 N.J. 375 (2002)].

The most common prevailing wage violations on public works projects are:

  • Failing to pay workers at the correct rate for their trade classification
  • Failing to provide workers fringe benefits or payment in lieu thereof
  • Failing to pay workers for all hours worked on the public works projects
  • Demanding that workers pay wages back to their employer (i.e., kickbacks)

If you believe you may be owed prevailing wages, you should contact an employment attorney with experience handling prevailing wage matters. Pelton Graham LLC has handled prevailing wage matters throughout New York state, and prevailing wage issues in California; our attorneys are happy to answer your questions in a free consultation.  We can walk you through the process, and as contingency fee lawyers, we only get paid if you get paid.


What are the Prevailing Wage Requirements in New Jersey?

The New Jersey Prevailing Wage Act applies to “public works” contracts awarded by the state, a political subdivision of the state, or a regional school board.  N.J.S.A. 34:11-56.26(5) defines public work as “construction, reconstruction, demolition, alteration, custom fabrication, or repair work, or maintenance work, including painting and decorating, done under contract and paid for in whole or in part out of the funds of a public body.” “Public Work” shall also mean construction, reconstruction, demolition, alteration, custom fabrication, or repair work done on any property or premises, whether or not the work is paid for from public funds, if, at the time of the entering into of the contract the property or premises is owned by the public body. 

Contracts awarded directly by municipal government must be valued at $16,263 or more to be covered by the Act. For all other public entities, including municipal utility authorities and boards of education, the threshold is $2,000.

Contractors and subcontractors on these public works projects must pay their workers at least the prevailing rate of wages and benefits in effect on the date the contract is awarded, plus any pre-determined rate increases.  

For example, the following prevailing wage rates apply to workers on public works projects as of January 2023:

  • Operating Engineer (Statewide): $55.63 base rate, plus $36.65 in fringe benefits, for a total compensation of $92.28 per hour.
  • Heavy and General Laborers (South NJ): $45.90 base rate, plus $34.88 in fringe benefits, for a total compensation of $80.78 per hour.
  • Bricklayer, Stone Mason (Essex County): $46.90 base rate, plus $34.83 in fringe benefits, for a total compensation of $81.73 per hour.

In addition to the base rate and fringe benefit rate, the prevailing wage determinations also set forth requirements for shift differentials, overtime payments, holidays, and apprentice rates. Certain trade classifications also include wage rates for foremen and deputy foremen. As long as a foreman is performing “hands-on” work on the project, they are also entitled to prevailing wages. The current prevailing wage determinations are published on the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

If you have any questions regarding which rate applies to your work on a public project, contact Pelton Graham prevailing wage attorneys for a confidential consultation.


How do I know if I am working on a public works project?

The best indicator is if you are working on a project directly for a city, county, municipality, district, or agency of the state. For example, projects in public schools, public hospitals, police/fire departments, county buildings, highways, airports, etc.

Another indication is that the prevailing wage determination may be posted at the job site.

If you are still unsure of whether you are working on a public works project, please call Pelton Graham for a confidential consultation.

How do I know what rate I am supposed to be paid for my work?

The applicable prevailing wage rate is determined based on the type of work you are performing on the project (i.e., the trade classification associated with your work) and the location of the project. Although certain trade classifications have the same rate throughout the state, most have different rates for different areas of the state, based on the county where the work is performed.

The prevailing wage determinations published by the New Jersey Dept. of Labor and Workforce Development also dictate the effective date of the determination and the expiration date. If there is no predetermined changes to the wage rates, the date of the advertisement of bids for the project determines which rate is applicable to the work on that project.

If you are unsure as to what prevailing wage rate applies to the work you are performing, please call Pelton Graham for a confidential consultation.

What type of fringe benefits may a company take credit for, towards payment of the prevailing wage fringe benefit rate?

A company may take credit for the actual cost of providing their employees certain fringe benefits, such as: Medical/Hospitalization coverage, Dental coverage, Pension or Retirement plan, Paid Time Off (vacation, holidays, sick days), or Life Insurance.

Items such as use of company vehicles or cell phones, lodging reimbursement, or company-provided tools may not be credited towards the Prevailing Wage. Under no circumstances may statutory deductions (Unemployment Insurance, Income Tax, etc.), Workers’ Compensation Insurance, or the portion of any fringe benefit that is deducted from the employee’s pay, be credited towards the Prevailing Wage.

What do I do if I am not being paid properly for my work on public works?

If you have been unsuccessful in requesting directly that your employer/contractor pay you properly for your work, you can file a private lawsuit against your employer seeking the unpaid prevailing wages that you are entitled to be paid. Such lawsuits typically must be brought within six (6) years of the date that you performed the work.

It is unlawful for an employer to retaliate or discriminate against you (for example: fire, threaten to fire, demote, suspend, or discipline you) because you complain about their failure to pay you in accordance with the law.

Please contact Pelton Graham employment attorneys for a free, confidential consultation to see if we can assist you with bringing a lawsuit to recover your unpaid prevailing wages.

We’re Here to Help

If you believe you should have been paid prevailing wages, or if you are required to “kickback”  or return a portion of your wages to your employer, contact Pelton Graham LLC to discuss your potential claim and determine how to gather information regarding the important facts of your situation, including whether a job is a government-funded or “public works” project, your hours of work, your wages paid, any discussions you’ve had about prevailing wages, and any fraudulent statement or document you’ve been required to make to government inspectors regarding your wages.

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