State Supreme Court Orders Official To Set Prevailing Wage Rates

The New Mexico Supreme Court has ordered a public official to establish prevailing wage rates in accordance with current collective bargaining agreements. In what appears to have been a show-down among the legislative and executive branches, the court has sided with the legislators. The NM high court held that “the Director has a mandatory, nondiscretionary duty to set prevailing wage and prevailing benefit rates the same as those negotiated in applicable CBAs.” The court ordered this action to be taken within 30 days of the decision. We recently reported challenges to state prevailing wage laws in a related post. But in other states where there are threats to these laws, it is the legislative branch seeking to amend state laws, and not the executive branch refusing to carry out or enforce the laws.
Under NM law (similar to most states), a public official is authorized and directed to establish prevailing wage rates, and those rates are to be established consistent with the collective bargaining agreement rates in the same vicinity as the project. Apparently, the NM Director of Labor Relations Division, of the state Dept. of Workforce Solutions, failed to take this step for more than five years since the state prevailing wage law was amended. Instead, the state agency “has been simply setting the rates the same as those that have been in effect since 2010.” Thus, workers on NM public projects have had their wages set at 2010 rates ever since, regardless of any change in CBA rates or terms. The NM matter was a unique set of circumstances, and the unions have convinced the courts that the laws must be carried out. The case is New Mexico Bldg. and Constr. Trades Council v. Dean and Bussey, 2015 N.M. LEXIS 158 (June 15, 2015).