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KNOXVILLE — A $4.2 million University of Tennessee project will help the U.S. Department of Labor measure and set pay rates for workers on federal construction projects across the nation.

UT’s Construction Industry Research and Policy Center received a five-year contract from the U.S. Department of Labor to survey local construction labor markets.

Dr. Bill Schriver, center director, said the Labor Department will use UT’s results to set pay rates for local tradespersons and laborers.

The Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 requires workers at federal construction sites be paid locally prevailing rates, which are established from surveys of wages paid by contractors of private projects in the area.

“There is a common misconception that Davis-Bacon rates are merely union rates,” Schriver said. “But union rates prevail only when more than 50 percent of local construction is performed by union workers.

“Otherwise, union and non-union rates are averaged to create prevailing rates for up to 30 trades and laborer categories.”

The UT center has been helping the Department of Labor since 1983 conduct surveys of prevailing rates for more than 3000 localities, Schriver said.

Rates vary widely between localities and trades, he said. In Tennessee, prevailing rates range from $5.31 per hour for laborers in some areas to $24 hourly plus fringe benefits for pipefitters.

Nancy Mason, a center coordinator, will supervise the wage survey activities, he said.

Other UT research conducted under the Department of Labor contract includes:

— Studying industry compliance or violation to the Fair Labor Standards Act, which in 1938 established overtime wages for work exceeding 40 hours per week; a minimum wage; and laws prohibiting many forms of child labor.

— Helping the Labor Department establish minimum wages for workers in American Samoa who are not covered by the Mainland minimum wage. Center Associate Director Tom Cressler will head this work.

Last September, the Construction Industry Research and Policy Center received more than $7 million from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) to design and operate OSHA-s construction targeting system.

Each month, the Center randomly selects about 1400 construction sites from more than 3 million active sites for safety inspections by OSHA compliance officers.

This contract also requires the center to analyze fatal construction events, identify direct and related causes of each event, and suggest intervention strategies.