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Do Prevailing Wages Always Prevail? Lessons Learned from our Recent Webinar

Do Prevailing Wages Always Prevail? Lessons Learned from our Recent Webinar

On October 15, MRSC hosted a great webinar entitled, The Top Ten Things You Should Know About Prevailing Wage. We were lucky enough to have two fantastic prevailing wage experts from the Department of Labor and Industries (L&I) join us: Laura Herman of the Prevailing Wages Division (L&I) and Industrial Relations Specialist Reasa Pearson.

We learned a lot of things during the webinar, but perhaps none more important that this: prevailing wages almost always prevail when it comes to public works and maintenance contracts. As Laura is fond of saying, any given contract is within the “prevailing wage universe.” For those that weren’t able to attend the webinar, I thought it would be good to share a couple other takeaways from the presentation here on the blog.

Takeaway 1: L&I’s Awarding Agency Portal Is incredibly useful.

One of the most important takeaways from the webinar was learning about the value of L&I’s new Awarding Agency Portal.  This online Prevailing Wage Intent and Affidavit (PWIA) system is a secure portal that allows awarding agencies to easily see all filed intents and affidavits and any certified payroll reports on its public works projects. Missing intents and affidavits from contractors and subcontractors are flagged so that the agency can immediately contact them. A contractor alert tab allows agencies to view status changes for contractors that have filed their intent for the project. Status changes may include recent debarment from bidding on public works projects, no workers' compensation account, missing workers' compensation account ID, and/or contractor license suspensions/expirations. The new portal will even generate a Notice of Completion form for the project! We highly recommend that all agencies read the step-by-step guide and get familiar with this wonderful new resource.

Takeaway 2: Prevailing wages have no lower dollar limit.

 Another takeaway comes from a frequent question we get at MRSC, whether there is a lower limit for applicability of prevailing wages. There is not. Prevailing wages apply to even the smallest dollar volume project or contract. What is covered by prevailing wages? Note this list:

  • Public work: all work, construction, alteration, repair, or improvement and maintenance performed by contract. (RCW 39.04.010)
  • Building Service Maintenance. (RCW 39.12.020)
  • Construction, reconstruction, maintenance, or repair. (RCW 39.12.030)
  • Turn-Key: lease, rental, or purchase. (RCW 39.04.260)
  • Off-Site Fabrication: the off-site fabrication of non-standard items specifically produced for a public works project is considered a public work for which prevailing wages are required. (WAC 296-127-010(5)(b)).

Takeaway 3: Furniture movers are not usually subject to prevailing wages.

The moving, transport, delivery, assembly, and placement of furniture (chairs, tables, cabinets, modular work stations, etc.) do not require the payment of prevailing wages, with the following three exceptions: 

  • Attachment to a building or other structure requires the payment of prevailing wages. Electrical work (including connecting electricity between modular work station panels), plumbing work and attachment of furniture (work station panels, stadium seats, etc.) are examples of attaching furniture to a structure.
  • Disassembly, moving, and reassembly necessitated by a public works contract. For example, furniture sometimes must be moved in order to accomplish work such as painting, floor covering, ceiling work, etc. This furniture-handling must be paid at prevailing wage rates.
  • The transport and delivery of nonstandard items to be installed as fixtures including custom-fabricated furniture made and installed to contract specifications must be paid at prevailing wage rates.

Takeaway 4: Contractors can file affadavits on behalf of missing subcontractors.

If a subcontractor disappeared without filing their affidavit, by statute and policy, the hiring contractor can assume liability for any unpaid wages, document an allowable basis for filing on behalf (FOBO) and get a FOBO Affidavit. The policy is on the L&I web site at FOBO. Because FOBOs involve a compliance investigation (failure to file), they take longer to process. Encourage the hiring contractor to request an FOBO ASAP.

Takeaway 5: Professional services during the design stage are not subject to prevailing wages.

This is true except for contracted potholing services. During construction, staking is subject to prevailing wages, but not architectural and engineering services.


We’re already planning additional webinars on bidding and contracting issues so keep an eye out for registration for those. In the meantime, if you have further questions about prevailing wages or other public works-related issues, email me at

MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

Photo of John W. Carpita, PE

About John W. Carpita, PE

John was MRSC’s resource for many years on engineering design, purchasing and contracting issues, local improvement districts, and other infrastructure issues. He had a widely varied career as a consultant, county engineer, city engineer and project manager. He is now retired.