The California-based plumbing supply service, plumbing apprenticeship provider and apprentice labor union have filed a lawsuit against the California State Water Resources Control Board seeking to force the agency to reinstate the contracts of more than 1,000 plumbing supply workers who have lost their jobs, alleging the state is violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by failing to ensure that plumbing apprentices are treated equally under federal and state laws.
The companies have been at odds since the contractors began laying pipes for the state in the early 2000s, when the state was trying to ease its supply problems.
But the disputes have escalated over the years, and this week, the unions filed a federal lawsuit that asks for a temporary restraining order and a court order requiring the state to reinstitute the contracts.
The union has said the workers’ contracts are terminated by the state after they turn 20, and that the workers are not entitled to benefits for the years of service.
But a spokesman for the unions said in an email that they believe the state should have to rehire the workers, including providing a pension for the workers and a health plan to pay for care.
“It’s just plain wrong that we are being forced to hire the same number of workers again, knowing that the current administration is not taking this seriously and not following the ADA and its protections,” said Scott Smith, a spokesman with the California Nurses Association, which represents the state’s roughly 4,000 nurses.
The California Department of Water Resources said it was not aware of the lawsuit and would not comment.
The state has not yet decided how it will respond to the lawsuits.
The state has paid out more than $3.6 billion to more than 3,400 plumbing supply companies over the last decade, including $1.3 billion in 2016, the state said.
The contracts allow the companies to hire an apprentice and to pay a monthly fee to cover apprentices’ training costs.
The apprentices earn up to $16.10 an hour.
The companies say they also provide training in plumbing repair, plumbing technology, welding, gas piping, electric wiring, plumbing automation, and maintenance.
The contract disputes include claims that the state failed to adequately compensate apprentices for their work, that the companies failed to properly train their apprentices, and for failing to provide adequate benefits.
The unions said the state has promised $40 million to compensate the apprentices for the time they have spent working with the contractors.
In a written statement, the companies said the lawsuits were not supported by any credible evidence, and it is our position that the contract disputes have no merit.
“We are committed to ensuring that we hire qualified, high-quality, and highly trained plumbing apprentices in order to maintain our supply and supply systems and the safety of our customers,” said a statement from the companies.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division has received a complaint from the union and said it will review the complaints and the case to determine whether any legal action is appropriate.