Understanding Wage Rates Under California’s Prevailing Wage Law


California’s Prevailing Wage Law is a crucial legislation that mandates contractors to adhere to specific wage rates on public works projects. The wage rates, published by the State’s Department of Industrial Relations (DIR), encompass a wide range of classifications and geographic locations. In this article, we will explore the key components of the Prevailing Wage Law and the factors that determine the required rate.

Prevailing Wage Determinations

Under California Labor Code (section 1774), all workers employed in the execution of a contract must be paid no less than the specified prevailing rates of wages. These rates are outlined in the General Prevailing Wage Determinations issued by the DIR. Each determination corresponds to the type of work being performed and provides detailed rates for various worker classifications. It is essential to understand how to interpret these determinations in order to comply with the prevailing wage law.

The Distinction: Basic Hourly Rate vs Total Rate

General Determinations feature both the Basic Hourly Rate and the Total Hourly Rate for each location and classification. California law mandates employers to pay employees the Basic Hourly Rate as the minimum wage for all hours worked. The Total Hourly Rate, on the other hand, includes the Basic Hourly Rate and additional compensation for employer payments, such as fringe benefits (e.g., health insurance, vacation, pension). Employers can choose to either incorporate these benefits directly into wages or obtain an offset for the actual cost of providing the benefits through a bona fide plan. Regardless, the total compensation must align with the Total Hourly Wage specified in the General Determination.

Example of Prevailing Wage Rate

Let’s consider an example to illustrate prevailing wage rates. The Total Hourly Rate for a Laborer classification in Group 1, Los Angeles County, determined by the Director in February 2017, is $52.08 per hour for straight time, $68.25 per hour for overtime, and $84.42 per hour for Sundays, holidays, and double time.

To break it down further, the Total Hourly Rate consists of $32.34 in Basic Hourly Rate pay and $19.74 in fringe benefit allowances. Employers must ensure that wages for straight time are at least $32.34 per hour and either contribute $19.74 to approved benefit plans or directly incorporate it into wages. In any case, the total hourly wage paid by the employer should amount to $52.08 per hour for straight time.

If the employer only pays the Basic Hourly Rate of $32.34 without any additional benefits or compensation, the worker is being underpaid.

Understanding Prevailing Wage Determinations

The General Prevailing Wage Determinations issued by the Director of Industrial Relations encompass specific geographic locations and work classifications. These determinations can be statewide, based on Northern or Southern California regions, or specific to a particular county (e.g., Los Angeles, San Diego, Riverside). To find the applicable classifications and rates for your public works project, refer to the DIR website at www.dir.ca.gov.

Worker classifications include various roles such as boilermaker, iron worker, electrician, plumber, carpenter, and many more. If your specific type of work is not listed in any of the determinations, the prevailing wage rate will be based on the work that closely resembles the type of work performed.

Ensuring Compliance and Seeking Assistance

Workers who believe they are being underpaid or not paid the proper prevailing wage rate have several options for recourse. They can conduct research to determine the correct rate, file a complaint with the DIR, or consult a prevailing wage attorney, such as Donahoo & Associates, PC, for a free and confidential consultation. When seeking legal assistance, ensure that the attorney has expertise in California’s Prevailing Wage Law.

Please note that reading this article or posting on this platform does not establish an attorney-client relationship. The information provided is intended for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. For specific legal advice, seek counsel from a licensed attorney with expertise in the relevant area of law.


Understanding California’s Prevailing Wage Law is essential for contractors and workers involved in public works projects. Adhering to the principles of Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness (E-E-A-T) is crucial in establishing credibility and building trust. By generating top-notch English content that incorporates the YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) experience, we can provide valuable information to readers and ensure compliance with prevailing wage regulations.

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