Contributed by Jeffrey A. Risch
Effective January 1, 2014, the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act will define “general prevailing rate of hourly wages” to mean hourly cash wages plus ANNUALIZED fringe benefits. Thanks to PA 98-482, the law will now read: The terms “general prevailing rate of hourly wages”, “general prevailing rate of wages” or “prevailing rate of wages” when used in this Act mean the hourly cash wages plus annualized fringe benefits for training and apprenticeship programs approved by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Apprenticeship and Training, health and welfare, insurance, vacations and pensions paid generally, in the locality in which the work is being performed, to employees engaged in work of a similar character on public works.
Many non-union contractors have established bona fide defined contribution plans that provide for 100% immediate vesting of the prevailing wage fringe benefit; usually in the form of retirement savings. The advantages for the worker are endless. For example, the money is solely and exclusively in the control of the worker to do with it however they deem appropriate. In exchange for such a rich and rewarding benefit, some plans specifically limit the contribution to only those hours actually worked on “public works projects” (aka prevailing wage projects).
Big Labor went to the Illinois Legislature and successfully lobbied for the addition of the term “annualized”. Therefore, effective for all worked performed on January 1, 2014 and thereafter, the Illinois Department of Labor will audit fringe benefit contributions made under a defined contribution plan and will calculate all contributions over all hours worked in a given period.
What does this mean???
The Illinois Prevailing Wage Act allows for certain fringe benefits (Health and Welfare, Pension/Annuity, US DOL Training, and Vacation in some localities) to be considered in determining the prevailing rate and be taken into account as part of the component by being an offset to the total in determining compliance with the prevailing rate. Contractors may choose to pay the entire prevailing wage determination in cash or they may choose to pay some in cash and some in allowable fringe benefits. If a contractor does not pay any allowable fringe benefit or just a portion of it, then according to the Illinois Department of Labor the total prevailing wage hourly determination must now be made up in the base hourly wage rate in order to comply with Prevailing Wage Act (which will raise the hourly wage and therefore skew any overtime rates).
Also, to establish the proper hourly calculation for allowable fringe benefits, contractors will be expected to divide the total amount they contribute to a bona fide fringe benefit plan by the total of all hours worked. According to the Illinois Department of Labor, a contractor cannot simply take the hours worked and contributions made on public works/prevailing wage jobs to make the hourly calculation. An example used by the Illinois Department of Labor includes: If a contractor contributes $520 per month for single insurance coverage and the employee works 2080 hours (40 x 52 weeks) then the effective annual contribution rate is determined by dividing $6240 ($520 x 12) by 2080 which equals $3.00 per hour. If the health and welfare portion of the prevailing wage is $5.05 per hour, the contractor can take a credit of $3.00 per hour and must pay $2.05 ($5.05-$3.00) additional on the hourly base wage. The same formula will be applied to Pension, Annuity, 401k plans, Training, and Vacation in some localities that are funded by the contractor.
Obviously, this is a critical change in the interpretation and administration of prevailing wage law in Illinois. Contractors need to immediately review their accounting practices for Illinois prevailing wage purposes.