Alarm companies, particularly alarm companies providing burglar and fire alarm services on public projects, are often faced with issues of “prevailing rate.” This was the subject of a recent case.

The case was instituted by the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (WDLI), which filed notices of violation against two individual alarm companies for alleged failure to comply with the Prevailing Wage Act during the installation of sound and data systems in a public project installation in Seattle. Workers from both companies pulled low voltage wiring through conduit of more than 10 ft. and sometimes hundreds of feet in length during the installation and were compensated at “electronic technicians” rates. The WDLI contended that the job was actually covered by the “inside wireman” scope of work, requiring a higher prevailing wage. The companies disagreed, contending that the work did fall under the “electronic technician” scope of work. The Administrative Law judge, the director of WDLI and the King County, Wash. superior court all agreed the work was covered by the “inside wireman” scope of work and ordered the employers to pay additional wages for time spent performing “inside wireman” work.

The case was then appealed.

On appeal, the court pointed out that for purposes of the Act, the WDLI had created regulations within the Washington Administrative Code (WAC) that designated scope of work descriptions for each trade and occupation involved in public work projects. The scope of work for “electronic technicians” and for “inside wireman electrician” each address pulling wire through conduit.

The WAC describes the scope of work for “electronic technicians” for purposes of the Act as set forth in WAC 296-127-01322 as follows: (1) the installation, operation, inspection, maintenance, repair and service of: (a) radio, television and recording systems and devices; (b) systems for paging, intercommunication, public address, wired music, clocks, security and surveillance systems and mobile radio systems; and (c) fire alarm and burglar alarms; (2) the installation of nonmetallic conduits and incidental shielded metallic conduits of no longer than 10 ft., nor larger than 1 in., when installed for the specific purpose of carrying low voltage wiring; (3) pulling wire through the type of conduit described under subsection (2) of this section, when the wiring is installed for the specific purpose of carrying low voltage electricity.”

The parties agreed that workers pulled wire through conduits longer than 10 ft. It was the employers’ position that the regulation allowed electronic technicians to perform any work associated with installation of the systems included in subsection (1). The further position was that pulling of low voltage wiring through conduit of greater than 10 ft. is within the electronic technician scope of work if performed during the installation of an enumerated system. They also urged that subsection (2) and (3) provide authorization to install conduit and pull wire independent of the installation of systems listed in subsection (1).

The WDLI interpreted sections (2) and (3) as limitations upon (1) such that the electronic technicians scope of work only allows for pulling wires through conduit less than 10 ft., even during installation of the specified systems.

The court pointed out that the inside wireman electricians’ scope of work covers all electrical work, both low and high voltage. Inside wiremen can perform any of the tasks delineated under the electronic technician scope of work. The inside wireman scope is the general provision that governs the prevailing wage for electrical work not specifically assigned to electronic technicians. Thus, the electronic technicians scope of work essentially carves a low voltage systems niche out of the inside wireman scope and allows for these enumerated tasks to be performed at a lower pay rate. The court pointed out that the installing of conduit and pulling wire through conduit is within the scope of work of an inside wireman. The authority for the electronic technicians carved out in subsection (3) of their scope of work allows them to pull wire through the type of conduit authorized to be installed in subsection (2). It is limited to those conduits neither longer than 10 ft. nor larger than one inch around and only when installed for the purpose of carrying low voltage electricity.

Therefore the appellate court found that the employers violated the Act and owed the employees the wages they were entitled under the inside wireman scope of work.