November 11, 2011, by
Eric S. Casher
In Reliable Tree Experts v. Baker (California Department of Transportation), the First Appellate District affirmed an order holding that the pruning and removal of diseased trees along state highways was both a public work and “maintenance” work necessitating the payment of prevailing wages under the Labor Code.
The Court of Appeals found that public works are not limited to “[c]onstruction, alteration, demolition, installation, or repair work,” as set forth in §1720(a)(1) of the Labor Code. A public work also includes “maintenance,” as set forth in §1771. Both sections, the court found, §1720 and §1771, define the scope of what constitutes a “public work.”
In a dispute between the California Department of Transportation (“Caltrans”) and Reliable Tree Experts (“Reliable”), Reliable argued that the work it did for Caltrans was not “maintenance” work” requiring prevailing wages because maintenance is work that must be performed on a regular basis and its contract with Caltrans was for a one-time job only.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, finding that whether or not the job constituted maintenance work did not depend on how often any particular contractor was hired to perform the job. State highways are bordered by thousands of trees that must be maintained on a routine, recurring and usual basis. Tree work on a Caltrans right-of-way is not a “one time project” but an on-going task requiring the use of many contracts throughout the state. Thus tree work, in this instance, would be maintenance work regardless of how many times any individual contractor is hired to perform it.