Henson v. C Overaa & Co., 2015 WL 3941499 (June 29, 2015)

Plaintiffs, pipefitter apprentices, alleged they lost prevailing wages and on-the-job training hours when the employer refused to hire apprentices from an approved pipefitting apprenticeship program like the one in which they were enrolled for work on the employer’s public work projects, specifically for installation of sophisticated, three dimensional pipe systems, in a process known as “process piping.” Plaintiffs alleged the employer’s conduct violated Labor Code section 1777.5, which provides in relevant part: “Every apprentice employed upon public works…shall be employed only at the work of the craft or trade to which he or she is registered” (subd. (b)); “When the contractor to whom the contract is awarded by the state or any political subdivision, in performing any of the work under the contract, employs workers in any apprenticeable craft or trade, the contractor shall employ apprentices in at least the ratio set forth in this section and may apply to any apprenticeship program in the craft or trade that can provide apprentices to the site” (subd. (d)); “The ratio of work performed by apprentices to journeymen employed in a particular craft or trade on the public work…in no case shall the ratio be less than one hour of apprentice work for every five hours of journeyman work” (subd. (g)); and the contractor must “endeavor, to the greatest extent possible, to employ apprentices during the same time period that the journeymen in the same craft or trade are employed at the jobsite” (subd. (h)).

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, ruling that the employer merely had to hire apprentices in the same occupation as the journeymen for the employer’s projects, as the term “craft or trade” referred to the journeymen’s trade or occupation.

Plaintiffs’ apprenticeship program was sponsored by the United Association of Journeymen and Apprentices of the Plumbing and Pipefitting Industry (Pipefitters Union); the employer did not have a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) with the Pipefitters Union. Plaintiffs argued that the Division of Apprenticeship Standards had authorized only the Pipefitters Union’s apprenticeship program to provide training and instruction on process piping. Upon appeal, numerous amici organizations asserted that the litigation had arisen out of a long-standing jurisdictional dispute between the Pipefitters Union and the Laborers Union over who should have exclusive rights to perform process piping work on municipal water plant projects. The amici further asserted that if Plaintiffs prevailed it would force the employer and other contractors to breach their CBAs with various unions.