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Tuesday, June 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

State Apprentice Rules Called Unconstitutional

LOS ANGELES (CN) - Trade groups that offer apprenticeships in sheet metal and air conditioning claim a state law unconstitutionally restricts them from seeking students beyond four designated counties.

The Air Conditioning Trade Association and ACTA Training Trust sued the California Apprenticeship Council and its members, in Federal Court. They say their students have a "constitutional right to earn a living in a trade of their choice on equal terms with other tradespeople," and claim that state laws violate that right.

"Plaintiffs Air Conditioning Trade Association, ACTA Training Trus, Inc., and ACTA Wage & Hour, Inc., (hereafter collectively referred to as ACTA) operate an apprenticeship program to educate and train student apprentices in sheet metal work and air conditioning installation and repair. ACTA is currently only allowed to recruit students from within a designated area of four counties (Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne), pursuant to a set of apprenticeship standards that was approved by the California Department of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS) on March 30, 1990," the complaint states.

Representing the plaintiffs, Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Timothy Sandefur said the rules limiting the ACTA program are "irrational" and prevent "legitimate competition."

"The Constitution guarantees everyone's right to economic liberty. That includes the right to start a business without arbitrary government interference," Sandefur told Courthouse News.

ACTA has 52 students in its program and during its 10-year history has put thousands to work, according to the complaint.

"ACTA is ready, willing, and able to recruit students from all of California's counties," the complaint states. "But defendants, acting under color of law - specifically California Labor Code section 3075 and its implementing regulations (Cal. Code Regs. tit. 8, §§ 212.2, 205, 218,230.1) - will not permit ACTA to expand its recruitment unless defendants first determine that 'apprentice training needs justify the establishment' of an expanded apprenticeship program. This 'needs' test, and the objection and hearing procedure by which it is enforced, allows existing apprenticeship training providers essentially to 'veto' their own competition, by blocking ACTA from expanding its apprenticeship program or opening a new apprenticeship program, solely to serve their own private economic interests. This 'needs' test bears no rational relationship to a legitimate government interest, but solely protects established apprenticeship training businesses against legitimate economic competition from ACTA."

ACTA says that one of its "competitors," the Sheet Metal Workers International Association, complained to the California Department of Apprenticeship Standards (DAS) that ACTA was recruiting apprentices outside the four counties.

The complaint was dismissed, but the DAS reiterated that ACTA could not expand recruitment or enrollment of apprentices, according to the complaint.

ACTA says that California's laws and rules governing apprenticeship "impose significant costs on competitors," and prevent new or expanded apprenticeship programs.

"This creates an artificial scarcity of apprenticeship services and allows existing apprenticeship training providers to keep prices and wages artificially high," according to the complaint.

It adds: "Because apprentices may only be employed on state-approved projects if they are apprenticed under standards approved by the DAS, the limitation on ACTA's area of operation means that students of ACTA who reside outside of Mariposa, Merced, Stanislaus, and Tuolumne counties are rendered ineligible for employment as apprentices on state public works projects. If ACTA were not subject to the discriminatory and anti-competitive 'need test,' students of ACTA who reside in other counties would be eligible to work as apprentices on state public works contracts and would be eligible for the state approved per diem apprentice prevailing wage rate.

"Thus, by applying the 'needs' test to deny ACTA the authority to expand its area of operation, defendants are denying ACTA's students of eligibility to participate on 'state projects,' thus causing them economic injuries and depriving them of experience and training opportunities. Defendants are therefore acting under color of state law to deprive ACTA's students of the right to earn a living and pursue their chosen occupation."

Summing it up, the plaintiffs say: "ACTA seeks to vindicate its right to operate its business without being subject to this arbitrary and discriminatory barrier established by state law. ACTA also seeks to vindicate the right of its students to work as apprentices on eligible state-approved projects, and to earn a living without being subject to an arbitrary and discriminatory protectionist barrier established by state law. Plaintiffs seek declaratory judgment that the challenged laws and policies are invalid, unenforceable, and void; a permanent injunction against any further enforcement of the challenged laws, regulations, and procedures or similar protectionist laws, regulations, and procedures by the defendants; costs and reasonable attorneys' fees, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988."

ACTA is represented by Sandefur and Adam Pomeroy with the Pacific Legal Foundation. They seek an injunction against deprivation of liberty without due process law, and abridgment of privileges or immunities.

The lead defendant is Christine Baker, in her official capacity as administrator of Apprenticeship for the California Apprenticeship Council, and director of the California Department of Industrial Relations.

The Department of Industrial Relations declined to comment.

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