Computer Technician Was Doing “Construction Work” and Entitled to Prevailing Wages

A computer technician working onsite and testing HVAC components to ensure proper operation, to verify completion of a project, was performing “construction work” and thus entitled to be paid prevailing wages. So decided the Massachusetts Appeals Court.

Facts and issues presented in the case included –

1. Computer technicians were not among the list of trades for which the state agency had published wage rates.

2. The technician’s job tasks were largely performed post-installation, but as part of commissioning.

3. The technician’s job tasks also included training the end user’s workers, and working with equipment vendors to establish communication protocols.

4. The commissioner of the Massachusetts Dept. of Labor Standards had issued opinion letters in 2008 and 2009, opining that computer technician tasks involved with onsite commissioning of HVAC systems were “construction work” subject to prevailing wages.

On this set of facts, plus some others not recounted here, the Appeals Court held that those onsite tasks associated with completion of construction would be part of construction activities subject to prevailing wage standards. Just because the technician's tasks were performed after the equipment had been installed, did not bar those tasks from being considered "construction work." The court acknowledged that it was not required to defer to the prior opinion letters, but found them persuasive just the same:

We conclude that the judge erred in failing to give appropriate deference to opinion letters issued by the department that stated that the work performed by a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) technician such as Niles, who, while on site, installs software in HVAC components and then tests those components to ensure that they operate properly, is employment “in the construction of public works” and thus is subject to the prevailing wage law.

The case was remanded to the lower court, to make a determination as to what portion of the computer technician’s time had been involved in completing and commissioning the HVAC systems, to enable a decision, in turn, as to work hours for which prevailing wages were due. The case is Niles v. Huntington Controls, Inc., 2017 Mass. App. LEXIS 105 (July 31, 2017).

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