What HVAC jobs get Massachusetts prevailing wage?

Workers on Massachusetts public construction projects must get paid what are called prevailing wages.  Prevailing wage standards generally track wage rates unions reach in collective bargaining agreements – higher than those usually paid by non-union companies.

In a recent case, the Massachusetts Appeals Court heard from a company who said its work wasn’t “construction” and therefore didn’t need to pay the higher ‘prevailing wages’ to its worker.  In Niles v Huntington Controls Mass App Ct 2017, a non-union HVAC controls technician worked on public school jobs.  He sued his employer saying it had not paid ‘prevailing wage’.  The employer said Niles’ work was not construction for purposes of wage laws.  The employee pointed to opinion letters from State and local bureaucracies.

The Appeals Court instructed trial courts to follow the lead, and the written opinions of the Department of Labor in charge of enforcing the prevailing wages, especially including the written opinions issued by bureaucrats in that agency.

Prevailing Wage Opinion Letters” dating back to 1960 are posted on the department’s official web site. One of those opinion letters stated that “[t]here is no question that the installation of HVAC systems, including commissioning and recommissioning and testing and balancing of the HVAC system[,] is ‘construction’ within the meaning of the statute and covered by the provisions of G. L. c. 149, §§ 26, 27.”

The Appeals Court’s ruling was a message to the lower courts – “the interpretive rulings made by the State agency charged with administration of the law should be respected”.

Don’t look for the Courts to overrule the way an executive agency reads (and forms) its view of statutes.