March 14, 2014
SB 54 requires the use of apprentices and prevailing wages on refineries.
Judge Refuses to Block SB 54,
Says Opponents Failed to Show Harm
Attorney General Kamala Harris' office, with the State Building Trades in support as intervener, successfully argued in defense of SB 54, a state law that assures safety in California's volatile refineries. A federal judge handed a major setback to opponents of SB 54, the legislation to improve safety at refineries by ensuring that skilled workers who have graduated from state-approved apprenticeship programs perform the complex, dangerous work at the refineries. Contractors who often bring low-paid, unskilled, out-of-state workers into the refineries sued to overturn and stop enforcement of the law, claiming it discriminates against and causes harm to those contractors and workers, while likely bringing more jobs to qualified California Building Trades workers. However, Federal District Court Judge John A. Mendez found that the opponents had not shown they had been harmed by SB 54. The judge declined to issue an injunction to block enforcement of the law, and strongly suggested that the lawsuit to block it would ultimately fail and that contractors should focus instead on complying with the law. His ruling allows SB 54 to remain in effect while the lawsuit continues.
We would like to thank Attorney General Kamala Harris for her vigorous defense of this law that protects California's environment, workers, and the blue-collar communities that often live in the shadows of these industrial facilities.
Here is a summary of the judge's ruling on the key points of the lawsuit.
HARM: The plaintiffs showed no actual harm that has been caused to them by SB 54; no actual contract or job has been lost. Actual harm is a requirement for standing in federal court; plaintiffs, therefore, appear to lack standing to bring the action.
DISCRIMINATION: The plaintiffs did not present evidence to show that it is impossible for them to comply with SB 54. Rather, the judge said, the evidence suggests that they simply don't want to comply with its requirements and choose not to use a skilled and trained workforce.
ABSENCE OF REFINERIES: The judge found it significant that refineries, the actual subject of SB 54's requirements, are not participating in the suit.
ROLE OF FEDERAL COURTS: The judge explained that the role of federal courts in reviewing state-enacted legislation is limited. The Judge said that the California Legislature’s decision that SB 54 is necessary to protect health and safety cannot lightly be disregarded.
It is often useful to pay attention to what one's enemies are saying. So what follows is an interesting analysis of the judge's decision, "a victory for the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California,"from the pro-ABC and anti-union spokesman Kevin Dayton.