A glassworkers union whose apprentices were being shut out of public construction projects in New York State scored a victory in its lawsuit against the state Department of Labor.
An appellate panel reversed a State Supreme Court ruling that had supported a Labor Department practice of classifying some traditional glazier construction jobs as ironworkers work, thus allowing only ironworkers apprentices to do the jobs at an apprentice wage. Anyone else, including other apprentices, would have to be paid the higher journeyman wage for the same work.
That decision effectively kept glazier apprentices off public jobs, since contractors would not pay more for inexperienced workers.
Now, in a 4-1 decision, the Appellate Division of the Fourth Department reversed the ruling of Justice James H. Dillon, reinstated the glaziers’ complaint and granted a judgment in the favor of the glassworkers.The judicial panel found that the plaintiffs in the lawsuit – the International Union of Painters & Allied Trades, the Finishing Trades Institute of Western New York and four glass contractors – were correct to argue that registered glazier apprentices could be paid as apprentices “even if the work they are performing is not work in the same trade or occupation as their apprenticeship program.”
"It means the Department of Labor can't read the statute to pick favorites among the trades," said attorney Joseph Guza, who represented the glaziers' union in the appeal. "It's a big win for our clients, for the contractors and for the taxpayers, and a validation of the plain meaning of the prevailing wage law."
While apprentice ironworkers earn less than journeymen glaziers, they're paid more than apprentice glaziers. The costs of the public projects typically increased, the lawsuit said, because ironworkers – both apprentice and journeymen – got most of the jobs, and the journeymen ironworker pay scale is higher than glazier pay. The decision also made it harder for glazier apprentices to get the required hours of training needed to become journeyman.
The union said that keeping its apprentices on the jobs was critical to the trade’s survival. The training program’s certification depends on its ability to graduate apprentices. If the trainees can’t get enough hours, the Labor Department can revoked the apprentice program’s license, according to District 4 business manager Jeffrey Carroll.
"This is going to be a huge boon for the trades," guza said. "Talking to contractors (since Friday), they are excited to be able to get their rate sheets (for job bids) going."
Guza said more work for the glaziers means lower costs for the contractors.
"There are a lot of wide ranging effects. this is a big deal," he said."
At the heart of the lawsuit was the state’s reclassification of many traditional glazier construction jobs, such as installing doors and windows and hanging curtain wall, the glass skin on many office buildings. Under Christopher Alund, head of Labor’s Bureau of Public Works, those jobs were reclassified as ironworkers work. Representatives of the glaziers say it is no coincidence that Alund was an ironworker, as were his father, grandfather and other relatives, for a total of 10 close family members.
The Appellate ruling did not address motivation but instead focused on interpretation of the law.
The Labor law has no requirement that apprentices can only be paid as apprentices if they are working within their own trade classification. The only requirement is that their training be part of a “bona fide” program.
While the Labor Department claimed the law only applied to work within the trade the apprentice was registered in, the judges declared, “The statute contains no such limitation” and added that they would not “amend the statue by inserting words that are not there.”
Guza said the decision is expected to be going into effect as soon as it is formally filed.