Pictured is an aerial photo of the Santa Paula Water Recycling Plant being built at the end of Corporation Road. The plant is being constructed by PERC. (Photo by Craig Mailloux)

Labor violations, undocumented workers alleged at Water Recycling facility job site

October 03, 2008
Santa Paula News
By Peggy Kelly Santa Paula TimesWhile demonstrators continued to picket Santa Paula’s new water recycling plant, a lawsuit alleging numerous labor law violations against the builder and others was filed Tuesday in Ventura County Superior Court. The suit, which may be certified as a class action suit, was brought by an Arizona cement mason and supervisor against Santa Paula Water Company, the partnership formed with PERC (Pacific Environmental Resources Corporation) and Alinda Capital.Also named are the plant’s primary contractor Layton Construction of Arizona/Utah and a subcontractor, Advantage Concrete Placement. The suit comes as the labor issue continues to dominate the $58 million dollar project, the largest in city history.Representatives of the builders, local labor unions and a Council ad hoc committee made up of Vice Mayor Ralph Fernandez and Councilman Gabino Aguirre have met several times in an attempt to resolve the labor issue that centers on the use of out-of-state contractors and workers.Former Advantage cement mason Andrew David Creel alleges he was fired after objecting to Advantage’s practices, including that he and others were paid the incorrect minimum prevailing wage, were not paid overtime, and were made to alter timecards to get their paychecks, among other labor violations detailed in the lawsuit’s filing. Attorney Ellyn Moscowitz said the job site is like a “slave labor camp,” including a lack of worker rest periods and having workers do uncompensated site preparation work.In addition, the suit alleges that Advantage imported undocumented workers from Arizona to work on the city’s plant. “Our understanding is that Arizona sent their undocumented workers here because Arizona has such tight laws” about employing illegal immigrants.Advantage General Construction, noted Moscowitz, is doing business as Advantage Concrete Placement for the Santa Paula project. A web listing for Advantage General Construction notes the company - incorporated in 2005 - is a builder of single-family homes, with one employee and revenues of $120,000. The address of the Phoenix-based contractor matches that of Hardrock Concrete Placement, a substantial enterprise that lists Layton among its numerous clients.“Our plaintiff,” noted Moscowitz, “was the foreman at the job and was asked to alter all these time records.”A majority of the City Council had approved the contract, done under a process known as Design/Build/Operate/Finance (DBOF), the first municipal contract of its kind in California. Statements by PERC representatives made during Council meetings that local workers would be hired - including the introduction of a Ventura-based contractor, who the Council was told would be the main subcontractor - cinched the deal for the contract.The city is under a tight state and court-mandated deadline to have a new plant up and running by September 2010. Last Friday work was shut down at the job site when members of various local unions picketed the job site, and they obtained a permit to continue demonstrations through at least this week.
City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said the city is “sad and concerned” that the new plant, a positive for the city facing millions of dollars in fines due to polluting discharges from the current aging facility, has “negative overtones having to do with labor.” Although work could be impacted by the picket line, “Our expectations are they will meet the deadlines within the DBOF agreement... how that is accomplished, as long as they meet state and federal laws within that contract, are their business.”The allegations of labor violations, Bobkiewicz noted, are of a “great concern to us, and City Attorney Karl Berger and Special Project Director Cliff Finley are following developments very closely.”PERC Marketing Director Marian Clayton said attorneys are reviewing the lawsuit, and “Until we hear from the attorneys, we won’t have a response” to the filing. As far as the picketers at the job impacting progress on the facility, “We were informed by subcontractors they would continue to work in a timely fashion and move forward.”Clayton said she has no specifics of which subcontractors had made the statements, but PERC is “continuing to openly negotiate with union representatives to satisfy the request of the union and the city that as many as possible” local workers are hired, “consistent with the goal” of timely construction and top quality.Moscowitz questioned the use of out-of-state labor: “There’s so many qualified contractors in our backyard, when you go to Arizona and Utah for companies with no track record here” it is puzzling. Since the project is under the DBOF process and “kept out of public works,” the case will require much investigation.“Hopefully, the community will be demanding some accountability and make sure this plant is built right,” said Moscowitz. “Sweetheart deals were made here to avoid fair bidding and fair competition, and this is the result,” including alleged 16-hour workdays without overtime pay or meal breaks, “when you make deals with companies unfamiliar with California’s strong labor protections.”Resolving the lawsuit could take “anywhere from a month or two to a year or two,” depending on whether or not PERC “wants to sit down and talk. We may go to court to get an injunction to shut the project down.”

Site Search



Call 805 525 1890 to receive the entire paper early. $50.00 for one year.