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Calif. contractor debarred for violating apprentice-training requirements

May 2, 2011
SAN FRANCISCO — Plumbing contractor Christopher J. Augusto of Marin County, Calif., received civil penalties for five projects in which apprentice-training requirements on public works contracts were violated in three counties.

SAN FRANCISCO — Plumbing contractor Christopher J. Augusto of Marin County, Calif., received civil penalties for five projects in which apprentice-training requirements on public works contracts were violated in three counties — San Francisco, Contra Costa and Sonoma — and was debarred from any and all public works activities through November 2013. The California Department of Industrial Relations, Division of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS), issued the debarment and civil penalties totaling $512,700 in March.

Plumbers & Steamfitters Union Locals 159 & 38 filed complaints with DAS for public works projects at Contra Costa Community College Library, Santa Rosa Fire Station, Lowell High School, the Richmond Library in San Francisco and Junipero Serra Playground in San Francisco.

Apprentice training requirements violated on these projects were in the California Labor Code, Section 1777.5, which requires employers on public projects to employ State indentured apprentices, in a particular craft for no less than one apprentice hour for every five journeymen hours worked, according to Aram Hodess, business manager for Plumbers and Steamfitters, Local Union 159, based in Martinez, Calif.

Plus, employers must contribute a predetermined hourly amount to either the California Apprenticeship Council or to a state-approved apprenticeship program that is providing training.

“Augusto failed on both accounts, neither making contributions nor requesting dispatch of or employing apprentices,” said Hodess. “Contractors on public jobs under the law are supposed to go to the apprentice training program and request dispatch of apprentices. Union contractors go to union programs. There are two non-union programs and one union program and this guy didn’t go to anybody.

“This is a big problem in this economy where there are so many apprentices that are unemployed right now,” continued Hodess. “My hope is that DAS will be more aggressive letting contractors know their obligations and the penalty if they don’t fill their obligations.”

This is the second time Augusto has been caught failing to comply with the requirements for contractors on public works projects, and in 2007 complaints against Christopher J. Augusto Plumbing Company resulted in debarment and penalties. In the first debarment it was shown he failed to employ apprentices and falsely reported that he had paid training funds.

A condition of the first debarment was that he complies with the labor code on all projects, according to Pacia Parker, senior apprenticeship consultant with the Division of Apprenticeship Standards.

“There were four projects Augusto had bid while going through the debarment legal process and these were “grandfathered” into the settlement, so that he could complete those projects even while debarred,” explained Parker. “It is those projects that were the subject of the second debarment since he failed to notify the apprenticeship programs, failed to request dispatch of apprentices and failed to completely pay the training funds due.”

The Termination of Civil Penalty issued to Mr. Augusto states, “During the course of the investigation and settlement of the 2006 complaints you admitted to the violations and pledged strict adherence to the apprenticeship laws in the future.”

“Repeated contempt for the law will not be tolerated,” said DIR Director John Duncan. “The fine amount is significant for a company this size. We want contractors to know the Division of Apprenticeship Standards will do everything possible to ensure the regulations are adhered to by businesses carrying out public work.”

According to Parker, California requires apprentices to work on public projects because it is a long standing social policy in California that when public monies are spent on construction, apprenticeship training is a required component.

“In the 1930’s it was realized that having a well-trained, skilled workforce was crucial to the continued growth of both the economy and infrastructure of California,” said Krisann Chasarik, communications specialist, department of Industrial Relations. “Nearly 700,000 apprentices have literally helped build this state and new, innovative apprenticeship programs will continue to ensure California has a skilled workforce for an emerging economy. More than $43 billion worth of public works projects loom on California’s horizon and will bring with them jobs for skilled trades people. The Division of Apprenticeship Standards will help develop a workforce trained and ready for the work.”

When asked about the contractors that do not fulfill their obligation to train apprentices, Hodess told CONTRACTOR that California law recognizes the value of apprenticeship training, but there are too many contractors out there that need to understand they need to fulfill their obligation to train apprentices.

“It’s a cost for employers to train apprentices, and not all of the time spent training is productive to the employer; it’s only productive in the long run — that you get qualified trained journeyman,” explained Hodess. “So if my contractors are spending money training apprentices, that’s an obligation, that’s not a level playing field. They are meeting their obligation to train, and Augusto is not meeting his obligations, and that’s not fair.”

Augusto was contacted by CONTRACTOR magazine for comment, but did not respond to the inquiry.

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About the Author

Candace Roulo

Candace Roulo, senior editor of CONTRACTOR and graduate of Michigan State University’s College of Communication Arts & Sciences, has 15 years of industry experience in the media and construction industries. She covers a variety of mechanical contracting topics, from sustainable construction practices and policy issues affecting contractors to continuing education for industry professionals and the best business practices that contractors can implement to run successful businesses.      

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