A Growing Trend: Using a 1st Notice of Prevailing Wage Violation Against a Contractor—The Shame of It All and What Contractors Can Do to “Right the Ship”
Contributed by Jeffrey A. Risch
Having handled hundreds of prevailing wage disputes, the IDOL is the only entity that can lawfully determine whether a contractor is in violation of the IPWA. 820 ILCS 130/11(a) et. seq. Under the IPWA, only the Director for the Illinois Department of Labor is authorized to issue a “Notice of First Violation” of the Prevailing Wage Act to a contractor. 820 ILCS 130/11a. This Notice of First Violation should encompass any and all events that occurred prior to the time of issuance. 56 Ill. Adm. Code 100.24. Per the IPWA, a contractor has no ability to respond, dispute or defend against a Notice of First Violation. 56 III. Adm. Code 100.5, 100.24, 100.26. It is not until the Director for the IDOL issues a “Notice of Second Violation” that a contractor may request a hearing at the department, in order to respond to the charges and defend itself against any claim of violations of the Prevailing Wage Act. 820 ILCS 130/11a; 56 III. Adm. Code 100.5, 100.26.
Only after a Notice of Second Violation is sent to a contractor and a hearing is held, if necessary, can the IDOL make a determination that a contractor is debarred or prevented from participating in a public contract because of violations of the Prevailing Wage Act. 820 ILCS 130/11a; 56 III. Adm. Code 100.5, 100.24, 100.26.
In deciding that the act has been violated and that the issuance of a formal notice of violation is required, the Director of Labor shall base the decision on one or any combination of the following reasons (as per the Illinois Administrative Labor Code):
- The severity of the violations. The Director will consider the following:
- The amount of wages that are determined to be underpaid pursuant to the act.
- The activity or conduct complained of violates the requirements of the statute and was not merely a technical, non-substantive error. Examples of a technical error include, but are not limited to, mathematical error, bookkeeping error, transposition of numbers, or computer or programming error.
- The nature and duration of the present violations as well as prior history of the contractor or the subcontractor related to the act. The prior history considered cannot exceed seven years before the date of the second notice of violation.
- Whether the contractor or subcontractor filed certified payroll records with the public body in charge of the project; whether the contractor or subcontractor has kept the payroll records and accurate records for 5 years; whether the contractor or subcontractor produced certified payroll records in accordance with Section 5 of the act.
- Whether the contractor or subcontractor has violated any other provision of the act.
Despite this authority, many local public bodies throughout Illinois are being influenced by certain third parties. These public bodies are being told that that they must reject bids or terminate contracts with any contractor who has any prevailing wage discrepancies, even when the contractor is the “lowest responsible bidder.” These public bodies are using “bad information” — “misleading information” — “outdated information” against contractors who have every legal right to bid and perform public works projects. By rejecting bids or terminating contracts with non-debarred contractors, public bodies throughout Illinois are ignoring their obligations under applicable “lowest responsible bidder” statutes, making arbitrary decision beyond their statutory authority, and depriving contractors of fair due process under the law.
Contractors must know their rights! Although public bodies have an enormous amount of discretion in ascertaining the “lowest responsible bidder,” they cannot make arbitrary decisions in contradiction to applicable law. Contractors should never be discouraged from submitting bids despite what certain public bodies are saying. From experience and observation, contractors should push back. This push back can be in many forms. Although the filing of a lawsuit or motion seeking injunctive or declaratory relief is sometimes necessary, often the public body simply needs clarity concerning the misinformation it had received. This clarity can usually be achieved through simple letter writing or other more informal channels.
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