Court Explains How California Wage Law Applies to “Public Works” Workers in Recent Opinion

The California Supreme Court recently issued an opinion addressing whether belt sorting qualified as “public works” under California’s Labor Code (CLC). According to the record, the Los Angeles County Sanitation District (District) and a neighboring Recycling and Transfer facility operate the county’s transfer and disposal of trash. The defendant in this matter is a staffing agency that provides belt sorting workers to staff the two facilities. The defendant supervised the workers, who were not considered employees of the District. The plaintiffs filed a lawsuit against the defendant, alleging, amongst several issues, the company’s failure to abide by employment and wage law under section 1720(a)(2) of the CLC. In response, the defendants argued that the statute does not cover the District or the plaintiffs’ work. The trial court granted the motion, and the appeals court reversed the ruling.

California’s wage law works to “protect and benefit” those working on public works projects. From a public policy perspective, the law works to protect employees from substandard wages, allow union contractors to compete with nonunion contractors, and compensate nonpublic employees with higher wages to address the lack of job security and benefits they do not enjoy.

Under CLC, employers must provide prevailing wages to anyone “employed on public works”, including those working under a contractor or subcontractor on a project for public work. Section (a)(1) defines “public works’ to include construction, alteration, demolition, installation or repair work. Section (a)(2) further explains that public work is work done for “irrigation, utility, reclamation” and District improvement.

The defendant argued that the plaintiffs sorting work did not fall under any of the enumerated categories, and therefore, the statute did not cover their allegations. Specifically, the defendant claimed that recycling does not fit into the widely accepted definition of “public work.” In this case, the California Supreme Court determined that the work was undoubtedly done for the District. However, the critical inquiry was whether the statute provided a limitation on the scope of work it covers. The court reasoned that the statute does not provide any limiting language. In fact, the legislature specifically removed the previous limiting language. Although the opinion left some questions unanswered, the court ultimately found that the belt sorters’ work qualifies under the statute.

Has Your Employer Breached California Labor Laws?

If you believe you have been subject to California labor law violations, contact The Nourmand Law Firm, APC. Our practice is dedicated to fighting for California employee rights, and only handle employment cases on behalf of employees. We handle claims stemming from California employment law, employment discrimination, sexual harassment, wrongful termination, retaliation, wage and hour laws, class actions, and defamation. We strongly believe that every client and case deserves respect, compassion, and zealous representation. Our attorneys provide clients with a strategic and personalized approach to address their employment concerns. Remedies in these cases often include reinstatement, hiring, payment of back wages, and compensatory damages. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, contact The Nourmand Law Firm at 800-700-9243 to discuss your rights and remedies.

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