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Wisconsin Prevailing Wages: Everything Contractors Need to Know
Last Updated Nov 16, 2023
Contractors in every state need to comply with a variety of construction laws, from environmental regulations to employment statutes. When it comes to paying construction workers on public projects in Wisconsin, contractors need to follow the state’s prevailing wage requirements. Failing to pay the appropriate wages to a worker who is covered under the regulations could result in some pretty steep penalties. Wisconsin’s prevailing wage rules set wages and reporting requirements, ensuring that all workers are paid a fair wage and leveling the playing field when it comes to bidding.
Learn more: How prevailing wages work in construction
Table of contents
When prevailing wages apply in Wisconsin
Not every type of construction project is subject to prevailing wage requirements. Generally, contractors on public construction projects are The Wisconsin legislature repealed the state’s own prevailing wage laws in 2017. Instead, all state agencies now use the federal Davis-Bacon Act requirements for construction projects administered by a state agency.
The Davis-Bacon Act applies to projects in excess of $2,000 for construction, alteration, and repair of public buildings or public works. It applies to all state and federally-funded projects located within the state of Wisconsin. Usually, the design and bid documents will state whether a project is subject to prevailing wage requirements or not.
Note that P3 projects may or may not be required to follow prevailing wage requirements.
All contractors and subcontractors on a Davis-Bacon project must pay their workers the stated amounts according to their trade and the type of work being performed. It is important that workers note the type of work being performed, since there are multiple classifications for each trade, and misclassifying a worker is a violation of the Act requirements.
Wisconsin prevailing wage rates
In Wisconsin, prevailing wage rates are determined based on the bid date of the project. Rates are updated on a regular basis, so they may change from one project to another. Wage rates are also based on the location of the project.
At a minimum, all covered roles are entitled to the federal government’s minimum wage of $15 per hour (as per Executive Order 14026).
To view current prevailing wage rates in Wisconsin, search the SAM.gov website for projects “by wage determination.” Enter “Wisconsin” in the keyword field to filter results for projects in the state.
The search results will show the wage determinations on recent projects in the state.
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Wisconsin prevailing wage rates (as of January 2022)
For example, on January 21, 2022, the wage determination for a Wisconsin highway project lists the following hourly wage ranges, which vary by county. These rates do not include fringe benefit requirements, which vary by county and role:
- Bricklayer: $34.86 - $42.77 per hour
- Carpenter: $33.56 - $36.15 per hour
- Electrician: $34.85 - $44.39 per hour
- Power equipment operator: $34.17 - $41.62 per hour
- Ironworker: $35.09 - $41.37 per hour
- Laborers: $27.89 - $32.05 per hour
The contracting authority will provide the base hourly rate and fringe rate for each required labor class or trade for a project. Each worker must be paid at least the amount of the wage determination.
If a worker’s regular pay rate is more than the determination amount, they must be paid their normal wage. Workers may be compensated in cash if the fringe benefits package doesn’t meet the required amount.
Workers covered by prevailing wage rules
Any jobsite laborer or tradesperson at a state or federally-funded project in Wisconsin must be paid prevailing wages. This includes projects for school districts, universities, governments, public works, etc.
Supervisors and administrative staff are generally excluded from prevailing wage requirements.
Overtime rules in Wisconsin
In Wisconsin, workers must be paid overtime when they work more than 40 hours in a work week. The overtime rate is 1 ½ times the normal hourly rate. Fringe benefits are paid at the normal rate, even for overtime hours.
When a worker performs work in multiple classifications during a week and works overtime, they must be paid a weighted average of the hourly rates for the additional half-time for overtime. For example, let’s say a worker works as a painter and electrician in the same week. Their total wages for the week are divided by the total number of hours worked to determine their hourly average wage. That wage is divided in half and multiplied by the number of overtime hours worked to determine the premium pay for the week.
Certified payroll reports
Contractors working on prevailing wage projects are required to submit weekly certified payroll reports. These reports show how many hours each employee worked on the project and how much they were paid in wages and fringes. The reports are used to ensure that workers received the appropriate prevailing wages for the type of work they performed.
The Davis-Bacon Act requires contractors to pay their workers on a weekly basis. Contractors who do not usually pay weekly will have to change to weekly payroll for the workers on these types of projects.
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Contractors are required to submit a WH-347 form each week for each federal project in Wisconsin that is subject to prevailing wages. The form provides information on each employee that worked on the site during the week, including the hours worked on each day (regular and overtime), wages paid, fringe benefits paid, and deductions taken.
The person performing payroll certifies that the information is true and accurate to the best of their knowledge and signs each report.
How to submit a WH-347
Each WH-347 form is submitted to the prime contractor or directly to the contracting authority for the project. The prime contractor submits their reports to the contracting authority, along with any other reports it received from subcontractors.
The contracting authority reviews the reports and compares them to the wage determinations for the project. They confirm that base rates and fringes have been paid accurately.
If there is a problem or a discrepancy found in the reports, the contracting authority contacts the contractor or subcontractor to investigate or correct the error. If the contractor or subcontractor rectifies the problem, there isn’t usually a penalty.
However, if the contractor refuses or doesn’t fix the problem, further penalties may be enforced.
Penalties for non-compliance
At best, failing to pay prevailing wages — or submit documentation on time — can delay payment from the GC or public agency. Failing to comply with Wisconsin's prevailing wage rules can come with some pretty steep consequences.
If a contractor doesn’t pay workers correctly, misclassifies a worker, or submits incorrect reports, they could be subject to fines, paying back pay, having payments withheld, contract termination, or debarment from future contracts.
Dawn Killough is a writer with over 20 years of experience in construction, having worked as a staff accountant, green building advisor, project assistant, and contract administrator. She shares fundamental green building strategies and techniques in her book, Green Building Design 101. Dawn lives in Portland, Oregon.View profile
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