Court of Appeals rules on wages required for electrical workers on public projects


This case involved a question of whether employees for D.W. Close and Burke Electric (“Employers”) who installed low voltage wiring during the construction of McCaw Hall were required to be paid the prevailing wages of “inside wiremen” as defined under the Washington Administrative Code.  The Employers argued that the work performed by the employees was within “electronic technician” scope of work as defined in WAC 296-127-01322.  L & I argued that the work performed by the employees in question fell within the “inside wiremen” scope of work and WAC 296-127-01323.  Inside wiremen were required to be paid a higher prevailing wage than electronic technicians.

The employees in question installed security and voice data systems, sound systems, audio visual systems and intercom/paging systems at McCaw Hall.  During this work, the employees pulled low voltage wiring through conduit to control panels, terminals or end devices.  The wires were pulled through conduit graded at 10 feet in length, sometimes for hundreds of feet in length.

WAC 296-127-01322 enumerates a scope of work for “electronic technicians” for the purposes of the act.

(1)        The installation, operation, inspection, maintenance, repair and service of:

(a)        Radio, television, and recording systems and devices.

(b)        Systems for paging, intercommunication, public address, wired music, clocks, security and surveillance systems and mobile radio systems.

(c)        Fire alarm and burglary systems.

(2)        Installation of non-metallic conduits and incidental shielded metallic conduits of no longer than 10 feet nor larger than one inch, when installed for the specific purpose of carrying low voltage wiring.

(3)        Pulling wiring through the type of conduit described under subsection (2) of the section, when the wiring is installed for the specific purpose of carrying low voltage electricity.

(4)        All the clean up required in connection with electronic technician’s work.

Both the Employers and the Department agreed that the workers pulled wire through conduits longer than 10 feet.  However, the Employers argued that such work was not excluded from electronic technician’s work when it was for work prescribed in paragraphs (1) (a) (b) and (c).  The Department argued that subsection (2) was a limitation on all the work described in (1). 

To resolve the issue, the Court looked to the definition of the work performed by a “inside wireman” which essentially covered all electrical work – both low and high voltage.  The Court then reasoned that the inside wiremen’s scope is a “general provision that governs the prevailing wage for electrical work not specifically delineated to electronic technicians.”  The Court also determined that the regulation was ambiguous, and thus the agency’s interpretation of its own rule would be given great weight.  According to the Department’s records it had communicated with employee representatives and employer representatives, as far back as 1992, indicating an interpretation of the scope of work in which subsections 2 and 3 are limitations on the work authorized in subsection 1.

Therefore, the Court followed the agency’s interpretation of its own rule and held that the employers violated the Act and owed the employees who performed the prescribed work the wages that they were entitled under the inside wiremen’s scope of work.

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