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4 min read

Ensuring Fair Wages for Construction Workers: The Davis-Bacon Act



In the realm of labor standards and fair compensation, the Davis-Bacon Act occupies a pivotal position as a federal legislation aimed at safeguarding the rights of construction workers. This act acts as a powerful tool in maintaining a level playing field within the construction industry by ensuring that workers receive fair wages for their labor. To provide a comprehensive understanding of the Davis-Bacon Act and its legal implications, we explore an intriguing case that gives us insights into prevailing wage requirements and highlights the significance of this landmark legislation. Join us as we delve into the conviction and subsequent legal proceedings surrounding Vassilios K. Handakas, providing a detailed analysis of the prevailing wage provisions and their impact on the construction industry.

The Conviction and the Appeal: An Overview

Vassilios K. Handakas found himself facing a range of charges, including conspiracy to commit mail fraud, conspiracy to launder money, and structuring of financial transactions. Dissatisfied with the verdict, Handakas appealed his conviction on several grounds, including the multiplicity of the structuring counts, the questionable applicability of the "honest services" provision in the mail fraud statute, and insufficient evidence pertaining to his intent to commit mail fraud. The Court of Appeals took on the responsibility of examining the merits of Handakas' appeal, resulting in a complex legal battle that shed light on the intricacies of prevailing wage requirements.

Prevailing Wage Requirements: Fostering Fairness in Construction Work

At the heart of Handakas' mail fraud conviction lay his failure to fulfill contractual obligations with the School Construction Authority (SCA). These vital obligations included the payment of prevailing wages to workers and the submission of certified payroll records. The Davis-Bacon Act mandates that contractors and subcontractors engaged in federally funded construction projects pay their workers the local prevailing wage rates. By doing so, the Act aims to ensure that construction workers receive fair compensation, preventing the prevalence of exploitative labor practices. The Court of Appeals, however, made a decisive ruling, overturning the mail fraud conviction due to concerns regarding the ambiguity of the "honest services" provision in the mail fraud statute.

Multiplicity Challenge and Resentencing: Navigating Legal Complexities

During the appeal process, Handakas raised a challenge regarding the multiplicity of structuring counts. The Court of Appeals adopted a rigorous plain error review and concluded that the indictment in question was, indeed, multiplicitous. This ruling raised intriguing questions about the proper delineation of offenses and the potential for duplicative charges. Consequently, one of the structuring counts against Handakas was reversed, necessitating a resentencing on the remaining counts.

The Vagueness Inquiry: Unveiling Constitutional Concerns

An integral part of the legal examination surrounding Handakas' case revolved around the constitutionality of the "honest services" provision as applied to this particular situation. The Court of Appeals explored the issue of vagueness, aiming to determine the extent to which this provision provided clear and unambiguous guidelines for prosecution. In the majority opinion, the Court concluded that the "honest services" provision defined under § 1346 was unconstitutionally vague in Handakas' case. However, the dissenting opinion put forth a contrasting viewpoint, emphasizing the clear notice provided by state criminal statutes regarding the consequences of Handakas' actions.

An Overview of the Davis-Bacon Act

The Davis-Bacon Act, a landmark legislation passed in 1931, has had a lasting impact on the rights and well-being of workers in the United States. Enacted during a time when the nation was grappling with the Great Depression, this act stands as a testament to the government's commitment to protecting the livelihood of construction workers and ensuring fair wages for their labor.

At its core, the Davis-Bacon Act mandates that contractors and subcontractors engaged in federally funded construction projects pay their workers the prevailing wage rates for similar work in the same locality. This provision not only prevents the undercutting of wages but also promotes healthy competition among contractors based on the quality of their work rather than on lower wages.

By setting a standard for fair compensation, the Davis-Bacon Act has safeguarded the interests of workers, preventing the exploitation and wage theft that can occur in a competitive and dynamic construction industry. It recognizes that fair wages are not just a means of making a living but also essential for maintaining the dignity, well-being, and motivation of workers.

Moreover, the Davis-Bacon Act does not just ensure fair pay, but it also upholds safety standards on construction sites. Recognizing the vulnerability of workers in a high-risk environment, the act establishes a foundation for robust safety regulations, protecting workers from hazards and accidents. This commitment to worker safety not only reduces the likelihood of on-site injuries but also fosters a culture of responsibility and accountability among contractors and employers.

Over the years, the Davis-Bacon Act has weathered challenges and amendments, further solidifying its relevance and importance in the labor landscape. Its provisions have been expanded to cover not just construction projects directly funded by the federal government but also those that receive federal assistance or involvement. This expansion has ensured that the protections afforded by the act reach a wider range of workers, including those engaged in public infrastructure development, transportation projects, and other federally supported initiatives.

While the Davis-Bacon Act has undeniably faced criticism from some who argue that it drives up construction costs, it remains a vital safeguard for workers' rights. Its prevailing wage requirements serve as a bulwark against a race-to-the-bottom mentality, protecting not only the livelihoods of workers but also the quality and integrity of construction projects across the country.

Implications and Significance: Protecting the Rights of Construction Workers

By meticulously dissecting and analyzing the case of Vassilios K. Handakas, the Court of Appeals raised crucial points regarding the application and interpretation of the Davis-Bacon Act. This landmark case highlighted the importance of following prevailing wage requirements and shed light on potential pitfalls associated with the "honest services" provision within the mail fraud statute. It also underscored the significance of constitutional considerations in safeguarding fair labor practices and ensuring justice within the realm of the construction industry. With a keen eye toward fairness, it is imperative that we continue to refine and reinforce labor laws to protect the rights of construction workers and strengthen the integrity of the industry as a whole.


The case of Vassilios K. Handakas serves as a compelling illustration of the complexities surrounding the application and interpretation of the Davis-Bacon Act. This intricate legal saga offers valuable insights into prevailing wage requirements, highlighting the pivotal role they play in fostering fair compensation for construction workers. By revisiting this case, we gain a deeper understanding of the legal intricacies of the prevailing wage provisions and their implications for the construction industry. As we navigate the terrain of labor laws, let us strive for clarity, fairness, and continued efforts to uphold the rights of construction workers while preserving the integrity of the construction field.