The California legislature has enacted a number of laws that impact prevailing wage requirements, including provisions that affect charter cities, requirements to inform the Labor Commissioner of the completion of public works projects, exposure to liquidated damages for prevailing wage violations, and applying prevailing wage requirements to refinery construction projects. These laws went into effect on January 1, 2014, and are summarized below.


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The legislature is considering adopting a statute that would require workers on private projects to be paid prevailing wage if public subsidies exceed the lesser of $10,000 or 1% of the project cost.  This would effectively eliminate the de minimis exception and likely change the landscape for public subsidies on private projects.


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An appellate court case decided in April of 2009 held that public works projects awarded by charter cities, and financed solely from city revenues, were not subject to California prevailing wage requirements under the Prevailing Wage Law. (See State Building and Construction Trades Council of California v. City of Vista (2009) 173 Cal.App.4th 567.)  On August 19, 2009, the California Supreme Court granted a petition to review the case, and de-published the opinion of the appellate court.  According to the Supreme Court website the case has been “fully briefed,” although oral argument has not yet occurred.  Presumably, the Supreme Court will issue its opinion by the end of the year.


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The California Department of Industrial Relations recently published an opinion which solidifies the “de minimis” exception to prevailing wage laws for private developers which receive small amounts of public financial support for their projects. In Public Works Case No. 2008-37, the DIR responded to a request for a prevailing wage coverage determination initiated by the developer of a senior care facility in Elk Grove. As an incentive to build the facility, the city offered financial incentives in the form of reduced sewer impact fees (sewer credits) which totaled over $200,000. The DIR concluded that pursuant to Labor Code section 1720(c)(3), this amount was “de minimis” in relation to the overall project cost.


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A recent California appellate court decision held that an employee of a subcontractor on a public works project has no right to recover a prevailing wage underpayment from the prime contractor. (See Violante v. Communities Southwest Development and Construction Company, (April 17, 2006, E037333) ___ Cal.App.4th ___ [06 C.D.O.S. 3209].) In Violante, the plaintiffs were employed by a subcontractor on a master planned community development with 2000 residences and many public improvements. Plaintiffs’ alleged that they were not paid prevailing wages for their work by their direct employer, the subcontractor, and brought suit against the general contractor.
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