3d Cir. Affirms D. Del.: Delaware’s Prevailing-Wage Law Is Unlawful

The Third Circuit has upheld a ruling in April 2010 by Judge Sue L. Robinson of the U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware that the state’s failure to recognize out-of-state registered apprentices under Delaware’s Prevailing Wage Law violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution. The court ruled that Delaware discriminated against out-of-state contractors by effectively forcing them to pay higher wages to apprentices than in-state competitors were required to pay.

The Third Circuit ruled that the lower court correctly found that Delaware’s refusal to recognize out-of-state registered apprentices facially discriminated against out-of-state contractors without advancing a legitimate state interest. The case is Tri-M Group LLC v. Sharp.

Tri-M filed suit in September 2006 alleging the Delaware Department of Labor had put it at a competitive disadvantage for public works projects by allowing in-state contractors “to pay reduced wages to their apprentices while denying out-of-state contractors the same right.” Tri-M was registered with Pennsylvania’s federally approved apprenticeship council but was not eligible for Delaware’s program, which requires sponsors to maintain a permanent place of business in Delaware.

In the summer of 2006, while Tri-M was performing electrical work at a construction project in Milford, Del., officials with the Delaware Department of Labor found the company had violated labor laws by failing to pay its apprentices their full wages.

Tri-M made adjustments, and the DDOL determined it was in compliance. Soon after, the company launched a legal challenge to the measures.

On appeal, the DDOL argued unsuccessfully that the challenged procurement scheme — including the permanent place of business requirement — does not discriminate against interstate commerce, and that the contested apprentice program regulations were explicitly authorized by Congress and approved by the U.S. Department of Labor. The Third Circuit disagreed and affirmed the District Court’s decision.