Oxbow Carbon & Minerals, LLC, appeals from a judgment denying its petition for writ of mandate. The petition for writ of mandate followed an adverse administrative ruling by respondents State of California, Department of Industrial Relations (Department or DIR), and its director, John C. Duncan (Director). The Director found that work performed under two separate contracts constituted "public works" pursuant to Labor Code section 1720 because the work was paid for in part out of public funds, and it was therefore subject to California's prevailing wage law.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
The subject of this appeal is a building at Pier G, Pad 14 (Pad 14) in the City of Long Beach, which appellant Oxbow Carbon & Minerals, LLC (Oxbow), uses pursuant to a lease agreement with real party in interest City of Long Beach (Long Beach). Oxbow's involvement with Pad 14 began after its purchase in 2003 of Applied Industrial Materials Corporation (AIMCOR), a company which, like Oxbow, was in the business of buying and selling petroleum coke, a by-product of the oil refining process.
AIMCOR originally leased Pad 14 from Long Beach in 1974. For a time, AIMCOR used the premises to receive petroleum coke by truck and store it until it could be loaded on to oceangoing vessels.
In 1990, AIMCOR entered into a new lease with Long Beach, pursuant to which AIMCOR constructed a four-wall structure that was open at the top (i.e., roofless), and various other implements. The purpose of these improvements was for the storage and conveyance of petroleum coke, which was delivered by truck to a location outside the structure. Coke would be lifted up by a stacker and dumped into the structure from overhead. After sitting in storage, it was conveyed from the floor of the structure to available ships.
In 1999, the South Coast Air Quality Management District amended its rule 1158 (Storage, Handling, and Transport of Coke, Coal and Sulfur) (hereinafter, rule 1158). The amendment required that coke be maintained in enclosed (nonopen-air) storage.
The lease amendment did not mention the planned roof. However, a December 15, 2004 memorandum from the director of properties for the Port of Long Beach requesting approval of the lease amendment by the board of harbor commissioners noted how the goal of Long Beach and Oxbow was to maximize the use of the facility in compliance with rule 1158, and "[i]n order to accomplish this, a roof and receiving conveyors will have to be constructed. . . ." The memorandum further explained that Oxbow would be responsible for the cost of constructing the roof, while Long Beach would reimburse at least part of the cost of the conveyors. In addition, a South Coast Air Quality Management District permit was issued for a "petroleum coke receiving and storage system" at the site, "consisting of," among other things, enclosed conveyors and a storage building. A harbor development permit described the approved work as: "Install a roof on the existing 22-foot walls on Pad 14; upgrade existing conveyors and add new conveyors to bring the facility into full rule 1158 compliance; upgrade an existing dust suppression system; and upgrade the existing electrical system."
Oxbow entered into a "New Conveyors Erection Contract" (Conveyors Contract) with Bragg Investment Co., Inc., for erection of the new conveyor system. It entered into a separate "Petroleum Coke Enclosure Design and Erection Contract" (Enclosure Contract) with W.B. Allen Construction, Inc., for construction of the roof, which it paid for with private funds.
The Conveyors Contract called generally for a system consisting of three conveyors—two enclosed conveyors, an open "shuttle" conveyor, and also an
The Enclosure Contract stated that its purpose was "to completely enclose the existing storage facility for compliance with" rule 1158. Pursuant to the Enclosure Contract, a roof was built over the storage building, a cupola was built to allow entry of the second conveyor into the building, and framing was built to support the third conveyor inside the structure. It appears that construction of the enclosure and the conveyor system occurred relatively contemporaneously.
Administrative Determination and Decision
In January 2006, real party in interest Iron Workers Union Local No. 433 requested a determination from the Department as to whether "construction of the building enclosing the conveyors" on Pier G was a public work under section 1720.
Oxbow and Long Beach thereafter filed an administrative appeal of the Determination, arguing that the work performed under the Enclosure Contract was separate from that performed under the Conveyors Contract, and, though the conveyor work was public work, the enclosure work was private.
Trial Court Proceedings
On September 2, 2008, Oxbow filed a petition for writ of mandate in the Superior Court for the County of Los Angeles seeking an order requiring the Department to determine that the enclosure improvement was not a public work subject to California's prevailing wage law.
The trial court denied the petition, and its minute order held the administrative decision correct as a matter of law. Citing Lusardi Construction Co. v. Aubry (1992) 1 Cal.4th 976, 987-988 [4 Cal.Rptr.2d 837, 824 P.2d 643] (Lusardi), the minute order stated that parties may not "by agreement between themselves, thwart or limit the rights of workers to be paid prevailing wage rates on public projects," and "[t]he fact that the parties structured their deal so as to limit the obligation to pay prevailing wage rates on a project does not prevent the [Director] from deciding to the contrary."
Judgment was entered in favor of the Director and Department on August 10, 2009. The appeal is timely.
The facts here are undisputed. Our task, therefore, is a matter of statutory interpretation, determining whether the work at issue was a "public work" under California's prevailing wage law.
A. Standard of Review
In determining whether the prevailing wage law applies, "we must exercise our independent judgment in resolving whether the project at issue constituted a `public work' within the meaning of the [prevailing wage law]." (City
Therefore, although we consider the Director's interpretation, we must independently determine whether the "public work" was only the work performed under the Conveyors Contract, or whether it also included the work performed under the Enclosure Contract.
B. The Prevailing Wage Law
1. Overview of the Prevailing Wage Law
The coverage of the prevailing wage law is broad, and a number of specific goals are subsumed within its objective: "to protect employees from substandard wages that might be paid if contractors could recruit labor from distant
2. Section 1720
The issue presented here is the scope of section 1720, specifically section 1720, subdivision (a)(1), which provides a definition of "public works." Subdivision (a)(1) reads: "As used in this chapter, `public works' means: [¶] (1) Construction, alteration, demolition, installation, or repair work done under contract and paid for in whole or in part out of public funds, except work done directly by any public utility company pursuant to order of the Public Utilities Commission or other public authority. For purposes of this paragraph, `construction' includes work performed during the design and preconstruction phases of construction including, but not limited to, inspection and land surveying work."
The parties do not dispute that the work done under the Conveyors Contract was paid for out of public funds and subject to the prevailing wage law. The question is whether the work done under the Enclosure Contract was also subject to the prevailing wage law. If the enclosure work fell within the scope of "construction" "paid for in whole or in part out of public funds" then it also fell within the definition of "public works," and was subject to the prevailing wage requirements.
Oxbow argues that the enclosure work and the conveyor work were two separate, independent constructions, that public funding only paid for construction of the conveyor system, and that the roof work was not a public work subject to the prevailing wage law. The Department contends that Oxbow constructed a single, rule 1158-compliant coke loading and storage facility, that construction of the facility was paid for in part out of public funds, and that all of the construction was a public work.
C. The Scope of Section 1720, Subdivision (a)(1)
Oxbow contends that this dispute—which centers on the scope of "construction" paid for in part out of public funds—presents an issue of first impression. Although Oxbow may have framed the issue in a somewhat unique manner, a number of cases have examined the effect of section 1720, subdivision (a) and its term "construction."
Case law also provides definitions of the term. In Priest v. Housing Authority (1969) 275 Cal.App.2d 751, 756 [80 Cal.Rptr. 145], in the context of a case examining section 1720, this district devised the following definition of construction: "As one thinks of `construction' one ordinarily considers the entire process, including construction of basements, foundations, utility connections and the like, all of which may be required in order to erect an above-ground structure." More recently, construction was defined: "The plain meaning of the term `construction' includes not only the erection of a new structure but also the renovation of an existing one." (Plumbers & Steamfitters, Local 290 v. Duncan, supra, 157 Cal.App.4th at p. 1089.)
Inherent in these definitions of construction is the concept that construction is the creation of the whole—the "complete integrated object"—which is composed of individual parts. The Director found that the conveyor and enclosure improvements "constitute parts that are put together to form `a complete integrated object,' a petroleum coke handling and storage facility," and the trial court relied on a similar analysis to hold that the entirety of the work was construction paid in part out of public funds. Given the facts of this case, we agree that focus on the "complete integrated object" is the best approach.
This approach is consistent with the use of the term "construction" throughout section 1720. Numerous subdivisions refer to construction in terms of a complete product, and none limits the term to the formation of individual pieces of a whole.
Thus, an emphasis on the complete integrated object is required in this case.
D. The Conveyor and Enclosure Work Constituted Construction Paid for in Part by Public Funds
Oxbow argues that the construction of the enclosure was separate and independent from the construction of the conveyor system and so cannot be considered paid for out of public funds. Oxbow relies on the fact that its amended lease with Long Beach only referenced the planned conveyor work and stated that this work would be reimbursed by Long Beach and be subject to the prevailing wage law. As correctly noted by both the Director and the trial court, however, the danger of Oxbow's argument is that if given effect, it would encourage parties to contract around the prevailing wage law by breaking up individual tasks into separate construction contracts.
By looking at the totality of the underlying facts here, it is clear that no matter what the terms of the amended lease were, the purpose and end result of the construction were a functioning coke receiving and storage facility. Giving effect to Oxbow and Long Beach's agreement to limit public funds to the conveyor system would run afoul of the Lusardi rule.
Contrary to Oxbow's assertions, the conveyor system and enclosure work were not separate and independent. Both the construction and conveyance work occurred at the same site and at or near the same time. The Enclosure Contract specifically noted that the other work would be "interfacing to" or "in close proximity" to the enclosure work, and that Oxbow was to "assist the Enclosure Contractor in coordinating its work with the work to be performed by the Conveyors Contractor . . . ."
Rule 1158 generally requires that coke be enclosed, including when on a conveyor. Although the first conveyor is independently enclosed, the second conveyor relies on the cupola constructed pursuant to the Enclosure Contract to enter the building, and the third conveyor is not independently enclosed at all, but relies entirely on the newly constructed roof to meet the rule 1158 enclosure requirement. The framing necessary to support the third conveyor was also built pursuant to the Enclosure Contract. Thus, the work performed under the Conveyors and Enclosure Contracts was interdependent, and without the work performed pursuant to the Enclosure Contract, the conveyor system would be unusable.
In order for the Pad 14 facility to be functional, it needed to incorporate both a method of enclosing the coke and of moving the coke into the facility. Oxbow contends that the conveyors may not have been necessary to render the site compliant with rule 1158 and speculates that other methods could have been used. Oxbow acknowledges that use of a stacker became impossible, however, and the record does not reveal any consideration of methods aside from the conveyors for loading coke into the enclosed facility. But even if alternatives had been considered, this would not change our analysis. A method of loading coke into the structure was required. The conveyor system
E. Oxbow's "Project Approach" Argument
Oxbow takes issue with the Director's use of the term "project" in his "`Determination and Decision.'" It argues that the Director improperly equated "construction" with "project," and that this "project approach" is not authorized by section 1720, subdivision (a)(1).
Oxbow is correct that section 1720, subdivision (a)(1) does not include the term "project." It is also correct that a determination of a "public work" pursuant to section 1720, subdivision (a)(1) must be based on the actual terms in the section, and analyzing whether something is a "project" paid for by public funds to the exclusion of analyzing whether it is "construction" paid for by public funds would be improper. Oxbow's concerns with the use of the term "project" in this case are overblown, however. "Project" is a term often used in conjunction with or in place of "construction," both in the context of the Labor Code and in areas far removed. (See, e.g., Lab. Code, §§ 1720, subd. (b)(2) ["[p]erformance of construction work by the state or political subdivision in execution of the project"], 1720, subd. (c)(6) ["construction or rehabilitation of privately owned residential projects"], 1720, subd. (c)(6)(D) ["project consist[ing] of new construction, or expansion, or rehabilitation
Oxbow also overstates the applicability of Greystone Homes, Inc. v. Cake (2005) 135 Cal.App.4th 1 [37 Cal.Rptr.3d 183] (Greystone Homes). The court in Greystone Homes found that a project to build a housing development was not a public work subject to the prevailing wage law. (Id. at p. 4.) The issue in Greystone Homes was whether contribution of a parcel of land, a traffic mitigation fee, and reimbursement of parcel acquisition costs constituted payment for construction under former section 1720, subdivision (a). (Greystone Homes, at pp. 10-11.) "[T]he dispositive question in the present case is whether actual construction of the new development . . . was paid for in whole or in part out of public funds." (Id. at p. 10.) The Greystone Homes court found that since the public funds were used to pay for land acquisition, not construction costs, the project was not a public work under former section 1720, subdivision (a). (Greystone Homes, at p. 11.)
In this case, there is no dispute that actual construction was paid for in part out of public funds, and Greystone Homes offers no support for Oxbow's contention that actual "construction" must be circumscribed and limited to only the conveyors work. Oxbow also asserts that Long Beach's payment was "earmarked" to be used solely for the costs of the conveyor system. But deference to such an earmark would run afoul of the rule proclaimed in Lusardi, supra, 1 Cal.4th at pages 986-988, that parties may not contract around the prevailing wage law. Greystone Homes did not overturn or even reach the Lusardi rule.
Similarly misplaced is Oxbow's reliance on City of Long Beach, a case that also examined the scope of former section 1720, subdivision (a). As explained above, prior to its 2000 amendment, section 1720, subdivision (a) did
Again, there are no preconstruction or design costs at issue in this case, and there is no dispute over whether the public funds went to actual construction. Oxbow argues that City of Long Beach demonstrates a requirement of narrowly construing actual "construction" paid for out of public funds. It does no such thing. No party in City of Long Beach contended that in determining the scope of actual construction, the court is bound by the terms of contracts pertaining to component parts. The ruling in City of Long Beach was dependent on the legislative history of the section 1720, subdivision (a) amendment, an amendment that, as explained above, indicated the Legislature's intent to prospectively expand the scope of "construction" paid for out of public funds.
F. Oxbow's Proposed Test Is Unworkable
Finally, Oxbow requests that this court establish a test to determine whether work constitutes "construction." Under Oxbow's proposed test, "construction" can be either: "(1) a construction that constitutes an end product in its own right; or (2) in the context of multiple construction activities, work that amounts to a single, interdependent, integrated construction." The Department responds that Oxbow's test is confusing and ambiguous. We agree, and reject Oxbow's proposed test.
We note first that previous attempts to arbitrarily limit the scope of terms in section 1720, subdivision (a) have been denied. In Priest v. Housing Authority, supra, 275 Cal.App.2d at pages 755-756, the appellant tried to parse the meaning of the term "demolition" under section 1720, arguing the undefined term only encompassed destruction of objects above ground. The Second District rejected that argument, finding that if appellant's definition were followed, "then the word is to be given a limitation not spelled out by the Legislature." (275 Cal.App.2d at p. 756.)
We also find that Oxbow's test is apt to cause more confusion than the statutory language it seeks to replace. Under the test, the conveyor system may or may not be an "end product in its own right," and the conveyor system could also be considered one piece of work that resulted in a "single, interdependent, integrated construction." Is the conveyor system an end product? Without a rule 1158-compliant structure where it can dump coke it would appear to be useless. Further, without the cupola and framing built pursuant to the Enclosure Contract, the conveyor system would not function. And, as explained above, without both the enclosure and a lawful method of moving coke into the enclosed building, the structure at Pad 14 would still be unusable. Thus, even under Oxbow's test, the "construction" would likely still be the functional coke receiving and storage facility.
The judgment is affirmed.
Doi Todd, J., and Chavez, J., concurred.