The 2005-06 federal court case Helix Electric v. Division of Labor Standards Enforcement exposed ambiguity in federal law (and California state law) concerning Labor-Management Cooperation Committees.
Plaintiff Helix Electric – a large multi-state non-union electrical contractor long subjected to harassment from unions – argued that the Public Works Compliance Program (“PWCP”) was not a “labor-management committee” under 29 U.S.C. 175a, nor was PWCP’s conduct within the scope of activities permitted for “labor-management committees.” It also argued that California Labor Code Section 1776(e), by permitting
“labor-management committees” to obtain the home addresses of employees on public works projects, was preempted by federal law
Helix Electric, Inc. was a subcontractor on a County of Sacramento public works project, Juvenile Hall Expansion and Modifications Project. A Labor-Management Cooperation Committee affiliated with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local No. 340 requested that the County of Sacramento provide certified payroll records for Helix Electric without obliterating the addresses of employees.
Public Works Compliance Program did not hold meetings and did not have a board of directors, and no officers. It did not have any legal form or structure, and it had no documents regarding its creation, governance, or operation. Yet it purported to be a Labor-Management Cooperation Committee pursuant to the Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978. (One employee or contractor of Public Works Compliance Program was Patrick Kennedy, now an elected official on the board of trustees of the Sacramento City Unified School District and an unsuccessful 2010 candidate for Sacramento City Council, who was supposedly assisting developers and contractors in the Sacramento area with the permitting process.)
California Labor Code Section 1776(e) prohibits the public from obtaining the addresses of employees on certified payroll records, with the exception of Joint Labor-Management Committees authorized by the federal Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978.
Helix Electric maintained that the County of Sacramento would violate the privacy of its employees if it provided the addresses to the union-affiliated Labor-Management Cooperation Committee. It also asserted that the Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978 lists specific activities of Labor-Management Cooperation Committees but does not authorize such as committee to investigate certified payroll records for purposes of determining whether the contractor is abiding by state labor laws.
In December 2005, Helix Electric obtained a Temporary Restraining Order that stopped the County of Sacramento from releasing the employee addresses. In late February 2006, the United States District Court, Eastern District of California denied the preliminary injunction. Helix Electric appealed to the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and asked the U.S. District Court to stop the County of Sacramento from providing the employee addresses.
In January 2006, the Labor Management Cooperation Committee filed a motion requesting that the court require Helix Electric to post a bond, under the Norris-LaGuardia Act, for attorneys’ fees because the efforts by Helix constituted a “labor dispute” within the meaning of the Norris-LaGuardia Act. Helix Electric opposed the motion, and the Court denied it. Helix Electric then countered with a request for the court to grant permission for deposition of the persons most knowledgeable about the Labor Management Cooperation Committee. Although the Labor Management Cooperation Committee opposed the discovery, Helix Electric successfully brought a motion and obtained a court order requiring the Labor-Management Cooperation Committee to allow the depositions to determine if Public Works Compliance Program was actually a labor-management cooperation committee under federal law.
The U.S. District Court denied the preliminary injunction case and then denied an injunction pending appeal. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the U.S. District Court decisions on October 25, 2006. The case was dismissed on April 4, 2007.
Some Key Documents in the Case
February 24, 2006 Helix Electric v Division of Labor Standards Enforcement – Memorandum & Order – U.S. District Court (Helix Electric loses case in U.S. District Court)