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4 min read

The Significance of Worker Classification under the Davis-Bacon Act


Arbitration and Worker Classification

In a recent court opinion from the United States Court of Appeals, Tenth Circuit, an essential dispute arose between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 113 (plaintiff-appellant) and T & H Services (defendant-appellee). At the heart of the matter was the question of whether a disagreement regarding worker classification under the Davis-Bacon Act should be subject to arbitration as outlined in their collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Worker classification is a crucial aspect addressed by the Davis-Bacon Act. Under this act, the classification of workers is essential in determining the prevailing wage rates for different job categories in federally funded construction projects. The act requires contractors and subcontractors to properly classify workers based on the nature of their work to ensure that they receive fair wages. This helps prevent the misclassification of workers and ensures that they are compensated appropriately for their skills and labor.

Contractual Limitations on Arbitrability in Davis-Bacon Cases

Following a careful analysis of the case, the court rendered a verdict in favor of T & H Services, determining that the dispute was not arbitrable. The pivotal factor in this determination was the examination of the dispute resolution clause contained within the collective bargaining agreement, which limited covered disputes to matters concerning the interpretation or application of express provisions specified in the document.

Throughout its deliberations, the court emphasized the importance of understanding that the classification of Davis-Bacon jobs is ultimately determined by the contracting officer rather than the union or the contractor itself. This clarification served to underscore the need for consistent categorization and eliminated any potential for ambiguity surrounding the coverage of the dispute when applying the presumption of arbitrability.

The Significance of the Davis-Bacon Act in Establishing Fair Wages for Construction Workers

The Davis-Bacon Act is a federal law in the United States that was enacted in 1931. It requires contractors and subcontractors working on federally funded construction projects to pay their workers the prevailing wage rates and fringe benefits that are determined by the Department of Labor. The act aims to ensure that construction workers are not subjected to unfair wages and to maintain the standard of living in the local community where the project is being carried out. The prevailing wage rates are typically based on wage surveys conducted by the Department of Labor. The Davis-Bacon Act also includes provisions related to labor standards, safety standards, and other requirements that contractors must adhere to., a federal regulation enforced by the Department of Labor, plays a crucial role in establishing minimum wage rates for individuals employed on federally funded contracts. Non-compliance with this act can lead to severe consequences, including withheld payments, contract termination, and even debarment. Recognizing the significance of protecting workers, the Act also provides employees with a limited right to take legal action on the "payment bond" that government contractors are required to post for their well-being.

Wage Determinations and Disputes: A Transparent Process

To ensure fairness and transparency, wage determinations under the Davis-Bacon Act are conducted prior to the contract award process. This means that any party involved, be it a contractor, worker, or union, has the right to challenge the proposed wage determinations. In line with this, the Department of Labor has established an administrative framework for resolving disputes, which includes notifying the affected parties, the possibility of referral to an administrative law judge, and, ultimately, appeal to the Administrative Review Board. This comprehensive process ensures that all parties have ample opportunity to present their arguments and seek resolution.

It is worth noting that the Service Contract Act operates in a similar fashion to the Davis-Bacon Act, further ensuring that workers engaged in federal contracts are appropriately compensated and protected.

Promoting Consistency and Adherence in Davis-Bacon Act Disputes

Culminating in its decision, the court stated that the dispute over worker classification under the Davis-Bacon Act was not subject to arbitration within the defined parameters of the collective bargaining agreement. Emphasizing the need for national uniformity and the reliance of contractors on pre-established rates, the court highlighted the impact of their determination. Additionally, they referenced the primary-jurisdiction doctrine, which prevents federal courts from adjudicating Davis-Bacon classification disputes under the False Claims Act. The court concluded that allowing arbitration in such cases could lead to potential problems and undermine the advantages of having a consistent and reliable system for determining classifications.

The court opinion not only shed light on the dispute between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 113, and T & H Services, but it also delved deep into the intricacies of worker classification under the Davis-Bacon Act. This thorough analysis demonstrates the importance of clarity and precision when it comes to defining workers' roles and responsibilities.

The court's decision to preclude arbitration was a significant one. It recognized the need for consistency and adherence to the collective bargaining agreement's provisions, as well as the regulatory framework that governs the Davis-Bacon Act. By doing so, the court reinforced the importance of following established processes and mechanisms for resolving disputes, thus promoting a fair and equitable working environment for those involved in federally funded contracts.

Upholding Worker Rights and Ensuring Fair Compensation

One of the fundamental purposes of the Davis-Bacon Act is to ensure that workers receive fair compensation for their labor. The court's ruling aligns perfectly with this objective, as it safeguards against potential challenges that might arise if arbitration were allowed. By upholding the regulatory framework, the court has effectively safeguarded the interests of workers, preventing any potential exploitation or unfair treatment.

It is important to note that maintaining uniformity in worker classification and resolving disputes through established administrative processes ultimately benefits the construction industry as a whole. By avoiding ad hoc and inconsistent approaches, contractors and workers alike can rely on predictable outcomes and clear guidelines when it comes to wages and working conditions.

The court's thoughtful consideration of the collective bargaining agreement's specific provisions highlights the importance of attention to detail. The Davis-Bacon Act is a complex piece of legislation, and ensuring that its provisions are carefully adhered to is essential for upholding the rights and welfare of construction workers involved in federally funded projects.


The court's ruling in the dispute between the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 113, and T & H Services not only reflects a commitment to fair treatment for workers but also emphasizes the significance of following established administrative processes. By maintaining uniformity and addressing potential challenges through well-defined mechanisms, the court has contributed to upholding the principles of the Davis-Bacon Act and safeguarding the rights and well-being of construction workers.