Illinois Prevailing Wage Act does not apply to state's high-speed rail project, court rules

By Tomas Kassahun | Mar 16, 2018

BENTON – District judge Staci Yandle granted summary judgment for Professional Transportation Inc. (PTI) in an Illinois Prevailing Wage Act (IPWA) case filed by a former employee.

The March 1order dismissed the case with prejudice. 

Robert Murphy, a driver for PTI, was among a group of drivers assigned to provide transportation to the Union Pacific Railroad as part of the Illinois High-Speed Rail Project.

Murphy filed a lawsuit against PTI, alleging a violation of the Illinois Prevailing Wage Act.


Judge Staci M. Yandle  

The IPWA, as noted by the court, says laborers must be paid no less than a “general prevailing rate of hourly wages for work of a similar character on public works in the locality in which the work is performed.”

Additionally, the IPWA states that an employer who violates this law “is liable to the state for a penalty of 20 percent of any such underpayment and a plaintiff is entitled to a punitive damage award of 2 percent of the penalty for each month during which such underpayments remain unpaid.”

As an employee of PTI, Murphy transported crews and equipment.

“In Illinois, he transported train crews between the hotel where they were staying and the place where the track replacement train was at the time, followed the train as it moved, and took the crew to and from lunch,” the order states.

Murphy also transported items such as water and toiletries and worked as a blocker at railroad crossings directing traffic, the order states.

Yandle wrote that she had to determine whether or not the high-speed rail project counts as a “federal construction project requiring a prevailing wage determination by the United States Secretary of Labor.”

“If so, the project as a whole is exempt from the requirements of the IPWA and Murphy’s claim for violation of the IPWA fails,” Yandle wrote.

A federal construction project, as described by the court, is a construction project that involves the federal government in some way. In this case, Yandle wrote that the project was awarded more than a billion dollars in grant money from the federal government.

Yandle cited an Illinois Attorney General’s Office statement from 1993, which states that “the (Illinois) Department (of Labor) has taken the position that the Illinois (Prevailing Wage Act) does not apply anytime the U.S. Secretary of Labor makes prevailing wage determinations.”  

While noting that a letter is not binding on a federal court, Yandle held that it is “entitled to respect.”

Looking at the letter and other similar cases, Yandle ruled that the high-speed rail project is exempt from the IPWA requirements.

“... If federal law requires the Secretary of Labor to make a prevailing wage determination on a project, the state of Illinois will refrain from imposing its own requirements on that project,” she wrote. 

“Because the IPWA does not apply to the project which is the source of Murphy’s claim, he cannot meet an essential element of his case and summary dismissal is warranted," Yandle added. 

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Illinois Attorney General Illinois Department of Labor U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois

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