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Prevailing Wages

This page provides a general overview of prevailing wage requirements for public works and building service maintenance contracts administered by local governments in Washington State, including types of projects, rates, and required forms.

It is part of MRSC’s series on Public Works Contracts.

What Are Prevailing Wages?

Prevailing wages are the minimum hourly wages that must be paid to workers on all local government public works and maintenance contracts. The rates vary by county and type of labor, and they are determined and enforced by the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) based on collective bargaining agreements or – if collective bargaining agreements are not available – wage surveys or other methods.

For more detailed information on prevailing wages, see L&I's Awarding Agencies page, which includes discussion of which projects require prevailing wages, or download L&I's Washington State Prevailing Wage Law publication.

Washington State Prevailing Wage Requirements

Chapter 39.12 RCW requires local government contractors and subcontractors to pay prevailing wages to all workers for all public works and maintenance contracts, regardless of the dollar value of the contract.

This includes:

To find current state prevailing wage rates, see L&I's page Find Prevailing Wage Rates by Classifications, which also includes a link to descriptions of trades and classifications.

Prevailing wage rates are updated twice per year, on the first business day in February and August, and take effect 30 days after publication.

When are the prevailing wage rates determined for a particular project? Most contractors must adhere to the prevailing wage rates in effect on the bid due date, regardless of how long the project lasts, as long as the bid is awarded within six months.

For bids awarded more than six months after the bid submittal deadline, contractors must adhere to the prevailing wage rates in effect on the award date.

For building service maintenance contracts longer than one year, the contract must include language specifying the potential for wages to be altered every year after the first year to comply with the most recent prevailing wages (WAC 296-127-023). The cost of the wage increases due to employees must be borne by the awarding agency.

Unit-priced (on-call) contracts have different requirements (see below).

Federal Prevailing Wage Requirements

The federal government has its own public works prevailing wage requirements, or wage determinations, established by the Davis-Bacon Act (DBA). For any public works project receiving federal funding, contractors must pay the higher of the state or federal wage rates (WAC 296-127-025). This should also be stated in the bid specifications and contracts.

To look up current federal wage determinations by trade and county, see Wage Determinations.

Notifying Contractors

RCW 39.12.030 requires all public works contracts and public building service maintenance contracts, regardless of dollar value, to include specifications requiring the payment of prevailing wages to all workers employed in any part of the contract. The specifications must either list all of the applicable prevailing wage rates, or else provide the URL address for L&I’s Prevailing Wage Rates for Public Works Contracts with the exact wage publication date and county.

If referring contractors to the L&I website, the agency should retain a printed version of the rates as part of its records and state that a copy is available for viewing in the agency's office and that the agency will mail a hard copy upon request.

Statements of Intent

RCW 39.12.040 requires every contractor and subcontractor on the project to file a Statement of Intent to Pay Prevailing Wages. These statements should be filed with L&I immediately after the contract is awarded and before work begins, if possible. The statements must be approved by the L&I Industrial Statistician and may be viewed by the agency administering the contract through the L&I Awarding Agency Portal.

The agency may not make any payments under the contract until the contractor has submitted an approved Statement of Intent. Likewise, subcontractors may not receive any payments until they file approved Statements of Intent. This requirement should be stated in the specifications and contract.

It is the agency's responsibility to confirm that the contractor and all subcontractors have filed Statements of Intent prior to making payments on the contract. Agencies can Search Prevailing Wages Intents and Affidavits at the L&I website. If the awarding agency knowingly fails to comply with the provisions of RCW 39.12.040, it is liable to all workers for the full amount of wages due.

For contracts in excess of $10,000, contractors must post the Statement of Intent in a location readily visible to workers at the job site.

Certified Payroll Reports

Effective January 1, 2020, contractors must file certified payroll reports at least once per month for all prevailing wage jobs (regardless of project amount) and submit them directly to L&I through the agency’s online Prevailing Wage Intent and Affidavit (PWIA) system (RCW 39.12.120). The local government agency is not responsible for reviewing or checking the reports. However, local agencies may view these reports through the L&I Awarding Agency Portal if desired.

Projects that began prior to January 1, 2020 and that are still in progress will require certified payroll reports for all work performed from January 1, 2020 and forward. However, reporting is not required for any work performed prior to January 1, 2020.

Contractors must always provide weekly certified payroll reports for federal projects. For questions regarding the federal law, contact the federal Department of Labor.

Affidavits of Wages Paid

RCW 39.12.040 also requires every contractor and subcontractor on the project to file an Affidavit of Wages Paid soon after the work has been completed. These statements must be filed with L&I and approved by the Industrial Statistician before being submitted to the agency administering the contract and may also be viewed through the L&I Awarding Agency Portal.

The agency administering the contract may not release the retainage until the contractor and subcontractors have filed approved Affidavits of Wages Paid. These requirements should also be stated in the specifications and contract. It is the agency’s responsibility to confirm that the affidavits have been approved before releasing the retainage. Agencies can Search Prevailing Wages Intents and Affidavits at the L&I website.

Contractors must keep accurate work and pay records and submit certified copies upon request.

Combined Intent/Affidavit Forms

Agencies contracting for small public works projects may use a combined intent/affidavit statement at their discretion. These combined forms are only available for public works projects under $2,500 including tax, and limited public works projects under $50,000 including tax (RCW 39.12.040(2)).

The combined form may only be used when one payment will be made under the contract and if there are no subcontractors. If the project involves subcontractors or multiple payments, separate statements and affidavits must be filed. By using the combined form, the agency assumes direct liability for any unpaid wages on the project, but may take action at law to seek reimbursement from the contractor.

For projects under $2,500, the contractor must file the combined form with the awarding agency, which must sign the form and send a copy to L&I within 30 days. Filing fees are waived. No payment may be made until the awarding agency approves the form, and the agency must retain a copy of the document for three years.

For limited public works projects under $50,000, the same process applies but with a different form. Filing fees for both the intent and affidavit apply.

The combined intent and affidavit forms are available to contractors through the L&I Contractors/Employers Portal and may also be viewed through the L&I Awarding Agency Portal.

Prevailing Wages for Unit-Priced (On-Call) Contracts

Some local agencies are authorized to use unit-priced (on-call) public works contracts. Unlike traditional public works contracts, unit-priced contracts do not identify a particular project or total dollar value, but instead establish “unit prices” for an indefinite quantity of work over a period of time, often for small public works projects such as repair, renovation, or maintenance of public facilities.

For these unit-priced contracts, prevailing wage rates must be updated annually, using the rates in effect at the beginning of each contract year, and intents and affidavits for prevailing wages paid must be submitted annually for all work completed during the previous 12 months.

For more information on unit-priced contracts, see our page Unit-Priced (On-Call) Public Works Contracts.

Warranty Work

Warranty work is work done after completion of the contract in accordance with guarantees built into the contract. Work under a warranty is subject to the original prevailing wage for the contract that created the warranty obligation. The original project Intent to Pay Prevailing Wages is still valid, but the Affidavit of Wages will need to be updated for the new hours of work and any new trades or occupations used.

Turnkey Contracts

RCW 39.04.260 states that any work, construction, alteration, repair, or improvement, other than ordinary maintenance, that the state or a municipality causes to be performed by a private party through a contract to rent, lease, or purchase at least 50% of the project by one or more state agencies or municipalities must pay prevailing wages in compliance with chapter 39.12 RCW.

The responsibility for an accurate determination resides with the awarding agency.  Failure to comply can hold the awarding agency responsible for unpaid prevailing wages.

Common Prevailing Wage Mistakes

Below are some of the common prevailing wage mistakes local agencies make:

  • Failing to notify contractors that prevailing wages are required on a public works or building maintenance/janitorial contract
  • Failing to comply with responsible bidder criteria (contractor registration, debarment status, workers compensation premium status – see RCW 39.04.350)
  • Failing to obtain intents and affidavits for all subcontractors
  • Paying the contractor before obtaining the statements of intent
  • For federally funded projects, failing to pay the higher of the state/federal wages
  • Failing to manage records and ensure that contractors pay prevailing wages
  • Failing to obtain a contractor’s certified payrolls when required

To avoid these mistakes and ensure the correct prevailing wages are being paid, we suggest creating a series of internal controls such as:

  • Verifying that the prevailing wage rates listed in the contract documents are correct
  • Verifying the scope of work being performed to avoid discrepancies between the wage class information given to the employee and the actual type of work the employee is performing
  • Obtaining appropriate documentation to verify responsible bidder criteria
  • Conducting periodic job site inspections and worker interviews
  • Keeping accurate records for all contractors and subcontractors on a project, including payroll and fringe benefits

Last Modified: February 23, 2024