Attorney General: Shaun B. Cashman, Commissioner of Labor, 2003-013 Formal Opinion, Attorney General of Connecticut

Attorney General's Opinion

Attorney General, Richard Blumenthal

September 8, 2003

Shaun B. Cashman
Commissioner of Labor
200 Folly Brook Blvd
wethersfield, CT 06109

Dear Commissioner Cashman:

As you are aware, section 31-57f of the Connecticut General Statutes provides for the payment of a standard wage rate to certain service workers employed by some contractors of the State or its agents. It has come to our attention that there has been uncertainty as to whether this statute requires such employers to raise wages during the life of a contract to match the prevailing standard wage rate as that rate increases, or whether the statute only requires those employers to pay service workers at the rate that was in effect at the time the contract was executed. We conclude that the former interpretation is correct. Because you are statutorily responsible for the establishment of standard wage rates and for the enforcement of section 31-57f, we are issuing this opinion to you to assist you in monitoring state contractors' compliance with this law.

Overview of Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f

Section 31-57f (hereinafter "the statute") applies to employers who enter into contracts or agreements with the state or its agents, on or after July 1, 2000, to provide food, building, property or equipment services or maintenance. Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(a) and (m). An employer who pays the state for a franchise to provide food preparation or service is also covered. Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(k). The statute only applies to contracts whose value is $50,000 or more. Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(i).

The statute requires employers to pay their nonsupervisory employees an hourly rate that is not less than the standard wage rate established by the Labor Commissioner. Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(b). Subsection (e) of the statute provides that the Labor Commissioner must determine the standard wage rate for each covered job classification by referring to the federal Service Contract Act of 1965. The standard wage rate shall be equal to the minimum hourly rate for service workers set forth in the federal Register of Wage Determinations under the Service Contract Act plus a thirty per cent surcharge to cover the cost of benefits, if none are offered to the employees. Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(e).

State officials empowered to award state contracts are required to contact the Labor Commissioner at least ten days before advertising a contract proposal to ascertain the current standard rates of wages for the job classifications involved. Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(g). The statute also specifies that employers covered by collective bargaining agreements that call for wages and benefits reasonably related to the standard wage rate "shall not be economically disadvantaged in the bidding process, provided the collective bargaining agreement was arrived at through arms-length negotiations." Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(f).

Employers must keep detailed records documenting their compliance with the requirements of Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f, and the Labor Commissioner and his staff may conduct inspections and hold hearings to investigate complaints of nonpayment of the standard rate of wages. Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(h) and (j). Employers who violate the statute may incur civil penalties. Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(c) and (d). The Labor Commissioner is authorized to adopt regulations to carry out the provisions of the statute; Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f(l); but none have yet been promulgated.

Guidance regarding the statute has previously been issued to state agencies by the Attorney General and the Office of Policy and Management (OPM). On July 24, 2000, the Secretary of OPM issued a memorandum reminding state agency heads to review all new contracts or contract renewals then under negotiation to assure their conformance to the new standard wage requirements of Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f. On October 9, 2001, the Attorney General advised state agency heads that the standard wage rates in effect at the time of a contract's renewal, not those in effect at the time of a contract's award, applied to options to extend a contract. Because we determine that Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f requires state contractors to increase employees' wages whenever the standard wage rate is increased, our conclusion fully supports both of those prior interpretations.

Analysis and Statutory Construction of Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f

In construing Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f to determine whether it requires employers to adjust the wages paid to employees during the life of a contract to meet the current standard wage rate, we make "a reasoned search for the intention of the legislature. . . . [W]e look to the words of the statute itself, to the legislative history and circumstances surrounding its enactment, to the legislative policy it was designed to implement, and to its relationship to existing legislation and common law principles governing the same general subject matter." State v. Courchesne, 262 Conn. 537, 577 (2003) (internal citations omitted).1

We begin our task "with a searching examination of the language of the statute, because that is the most important factor to be considered." Id. The seminal provision of section 31-57f is subsection (b), which mandates:

On or after July 1, 2000, the wages paid on an hourly basis to any employee of a required employer in the provision of food, building, property or equipment services provided to the state pursuant to a contract or agreement with the state or any state agent, shall be at a rate not less than the standard rate determined by the Labor Commissioner pursuant to subsection (g) of this section.

(Emphasis added).

The General Assembly's use of the present tense in this subsection clearly indicates that employees are to receive no less than the standard wage rate in effect at the time their wages are paid to them. This subsection does not state that employees shall be paid at the standard rate in effect at the time a contract proposal was advertised or at the time a contract was executed. Had the General Assembly intended for employees' wages to remain at the standard rate in effect at the commencement of a contract, it could easily have articulated that limitation. Cf. Electrical Contractors, Inc. v. Tianti, 223 Conn. 573, 583 (1992) citing Buonocore v. Branford, 192 Conn. 399, 403 (1984). The language of subsection (g) of the statute further demonstrates the legislature's intent that employees must always be paid at the standard wage rate currently in effect. That subsection states in pertinent part: "The standard rate of wages on an hourly basis shall, at all times, be considered the minimum rate for the classification for which it was established." (Emphasis added).

We also examine the legislative history of 31-57f, because "it is not only appropriate, but necessary to consider the purpose or purposes of legislation in order to determine its meaning." Courchesne, 262 Conn. at 578. The legislative history of that statute, enacted as Public Act 99-142, makes clear that its primary purpose was to ensure that employers who contract with the state to provide certain kinds of services pay their employees fair wages. Representative Chris Donovan provided the following explanation of the legislation:

[T]his bill deals with the inequities and wages for janitorial [and] food service employees who are contracted by the state. When, as many people know, when our state contracts out for janitorial [and] food services, we become the lowest payer [sic] employer for this service in the state. Our bidding process forces contractors to pay the lowest wages, with little or no benefits. We pay poverty wages for working men and women. . . . This bill . . . creates a fair system to compensate our janitors.

42 Conn. H. R. Proc., pt. 9, 1999 Sess. 3184 -85 (May 27, 1999). See also remarks of Rep. Farr, id. at 3189 ("[T]he McDonald's . . . on the Connecticut Turnpike would be subject to paying prevailing wages")(emphasis added) and Rep. Googins, id. at 3225 (observing that employers other than those contracting with the State are "paying people with these jobs between nine and eleven dollars an hour, plus benefits. And the State of Connecticut should do the same.") Speaking before the Senate, Senator Sullivan commented that the bill "sets a basic, reasonable living wage for all contracts in the state." 42 Conn. S. Proc., pt. 6, 1999 Sess. 2073 (May 19, 1999). Interpreting 31-57f(b) to permit employers to freeze wages at the standard rate initially applicable to a contract would not only contravene the plain language of that subsection, but would also defeat the legislators' expressed intent of maintaining parity between state contractors and private contractors in the payment of wages for certain types of services.

We therefore advise you that the standard rate of wages to be paid pursuant to Conn. Gen. Stat. 31-57f is the current rate, rather than the rate in effect at the time the contract was made. We also recommend that regulations be adopted, pursuant to subsection (l) of the statute, to facilitate state contractors' compliance with its mandates.

Very truly yours,


RICHARD BLUMENTHAL
ATTORNEY GENERAL


Heather J. Wilson
Assistant Attorney General


1On October 1, 2003, 2003 Conn. Pub. Acts No. 03-154 takes effect. Public Act 03-154 provides that "[t]he meaning of a statute shall, in the first instance, be ascertained from the text of the statute itself and its relationship to other statutes. If, after examining such text and considering such relationship, the meaning of such text is plain and unambiguous and does not yield absurd or unworkable results, extratextual evidence of the meaning of the statute shall not be considered." Applying this approach to the present case, in lieu of the approach set forth in Courchesne, does not change our construction of 31-57f. This is because, as discussed below, the meaning of 31-57f, as evidenced by its language, is plain and unambiguous and compels the conclusion that we reach herein namely, that the standard wage rate that a state contractor must pay to its employees pursuant to 31-57f is the current rate, rather than the rate in effect at the time that the contract was made. Moreover, even if the language of 31-57f were ambiguous, and resort to extratextual evidence were therefore necessary to ascertain its meaning, the legislative history of 31-57f, as explained above, would support this construction. Thus, regardless of whether 31-57f is construed pursuant to the approach set forth in Courchesne or in Public Act 03-154, our conclusion is the same.


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