Today, Pillsbury attorneys Julia Judish and Keith Hudolin published their advisory titled President Takes Action Meant to Increase Pay Equity for Employees of Federal Contractors. The Advisory discusses the April 8, 2014 Executive Order and Presidential Memorandum issued by President Obama aimed at "closing the persistent pay gap for women and minorities," at least for employees of federal contractors and subcontractors. These two executive actions direct the Department of Labor to issue new regulations that will (i) prohibit government contractors from retaliating against employees and applicants for asking about, disclosing, or discussing their compensation with other workers, and (ii) require contractors to report summary compensation data for their employees, by sex and race, to the Department of Labor. By limiting the reach of these measures only to employers that are government contractors, President Obama was able to act on his own executive authority, without needing the cooperation of Congress. Because government contractors comprise approximately a quarter of the U.S. workforce, these new regulations will directly affect a significant portion of employers, and may also have a ripple effect that extends even to wholly private-sector employers.
For any contractors who have ever considered manipulating disadvantaged business enterprise (DBE) requirements as a way to obtain work, this recent FBI press release provides a cautionary tale.
According to the press release, in 2007 a Connecticut contractor was awarded a highway project, funded by state and federal sources, based on its low bid of $39.6 million. In its bid documents, the contractor had represented that a certain DBE subcontractor would perform about $3.1 million of the work, furnishing all supervision, labor, and materials. Instead, the government claims the contractor used the DBE subcontractor as a shell to pass through payment to other subcontractors that the contractor negotiated with and supervised in actual performance of the work.
Under the non-prosecution and civil settlement agreement reached between the government and the contractor, the contractor agreed to a number of reforms, such as establishing an Ethics and Compliance Officer and removing the personnel directly involved in the scheme, in addition to paying a $2.4 million fine. The non-prosecution agreement only addressed the contractor's corporate criminal liability--the government's investigation of individuals continues.
On February 12, 2014, President Obama issued an Executive Order to raise the minimum wage for Federal contractors and subcontractors under certain contracts, as he had foreshadowed in this year's State of the Union. The Executive Order sets forth the new wage rate, when it may take effect, and what contracts will be affected by this minimum wage increase.
Click here for a link to the full alert, which I co-authored with my colleague Meghan Doherty.
Yesterday, Pillsbury attorneys Joël Van Over and Alex Ginsberg published their advisory titled Who Says Life's Not Fair: Good Faith and Fair Dealing Prevails in Metcalf Case. The Advisory discusses the Federal Circuit's highly anticipated decision in Metcalf Construction Company, Inc. v. United States, No. 2013-5041 (Fed. Cir. Feb. 11, 2014). The Federal Circuit ruled that a contractor suing the government for breaching the implied duty of "good faith and fair dealing" need not show that the government's conduct was "specifically targeted" to reappropriate the contractor's benefits under the subject contract except in limited circumstances present in the court's 2010 decision in Precision Pine & Timber, Inc. v. United States, 596 F.3d 817 (Fed. Cir. 2010). Rather, in Metcalf, the court reaffirmed the vitality of traditional standards used to prove a breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, such as where the government hindered or failed to cooperate with the contractor's performance so as to "destroy the [contractor's] reasonable expectations. . . regarding the fruits of the contract."
Yesterday, Pillsbury attorney Julia E. Judish and Maryelena Zaccardelli, Principal, MEZ Consulting, LLC, published their advisory titled Government Contractors Face Expanded Affirmative Action RequirementsRegulations relate to veterans and individuals with disabilities discussing the Obama Administration's Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs' expansive new regulations. The Advisory discusses, among other things, what the new regulations require, including that government contractors will be required to undertake greater efforts to employ veterans and individuals with disabilities.
Recently a California Court of Appeal affirmed a superior court's judgment and order confirming that the City of San Leandro (City) had not abused its discretion by waiving a bid defect and awarding the public project contract to that bidder. The court, in Bay Cities Paving & Grading, Inc. v. City of San Leandro, Case No. A137971 (Jan. 28, 2014), rejected Bay Cities Paving & Grading, Inc.'s (Bay Cities) contention that the City improperly awarded the contract to Oliver Desilva, Inc. dba Gallagher & Burk (hereafter G&B) because G&B inadvertently omitted the first page of its bid bond, a bond required by the contract specifications. The court found that the City had before it the information needed to determine that G&B had satisfied the bid bond requirement when it concluded that G&B was the lowest responsible bidder.
Star Equipment, Ltd., Manatt's, Inc., and Short's Concrete Cutting Co. recently secured a victory in the Iowa Supreme Court when the Court, in Star Equipment, Ltd., v. State of Iowa, Iowa Department of Transportation, Case No. 12-1378 (Jan. 31, 2014), reversed the district court's ruling on the scope of remedies available to subcontractors under Iowa Code § 573.2 for unpaid work. For the state projects, the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) had waived the requirement of a construction surety bond because the general contractor qualified as a Targeted Small Business (TSB). Ruling in favor of the subcontractors, the Court construed Section 573.2 "as a waiver of sovereign immunity that allows subcontractors to recover from IDOT the unpaid balances TSBs owe for work on public improvements." It went on to rule that the subcontractors, as prevailing parties, are eligible, in the district court's discretion, to recover their reasonable attorneys' fees from IDOT.
With the U.S. Congress unable to reach an agreement on a continuing resolution, the U.S. federal government shut down all non-essential services on October 1, 2013. The shutdown will remain in effect until Congress passes appropriations legislation for fiscal year 2014. This Pillsbury client alert, which originally was published in March 2011, provides guidance on how a shutdown affects federal contractors and what they can do to prepare for and react to the shutdown.
There are numerous contractor-related bills making their way through the California legislature this year. The following bills, although not an all-inclusive list, are worth noting:
Assembly Bill 44 - An Act to amend, repeal, and add Public Contract Code § 4104 relating to public contracts - signed into law by the Governor September 9, 2013 and operative July 1, 2014. The Subletting and Subcontracting Fair Practices Act, Cal. Public Contracting Code §§ 4100, et seq., requires an entity taking bids for the construction of any public work or improvement to specify that any person making a bid or offer to perform the work to, in his or her bid or offer, include specified information, including the name and location of the place of business of each subcontractor who will perform work or labor or render service to the prime contractor in or about the work or improvement. Commencing on July 1, 2014, any person making a bid or offer to perform the work to, in his or her bid or offer, will be required to include the California contractor license number of each subcontractor.
In IAP World Services, Inc.; EMCOR Government Services, B-407917.2 et al. (July 10, 2013), involving a protest challenging an award by the U.S. Department of the Navy (the "Navy") for base operating support services, the Government Accountability Office ("GAO") held that the Navy unreasonably credited the joint venture awardee with the corporate experience and past performance of two affiliates of one of the joint venture partners, where the record did not demonstrate that the affiliates would play a role in contract performance.
The Milwaukee Public Museum's 8-story tower's marble façade facing West Wells Street is being replaced with 234 solar panels. It was reported that, over the past 50 years, the Museum's heavy marble façade on the south wall facing West Wells Street has weathered and become less stable. Milwaukee County, which owns the building, reportedly elected to use solar panels as the replacement option because of the energy-generating potential of solar. The Museum's solar wall is expected to generate 77,533 KW hours of electricity per year, the equivalent of having 442, 60-W light bulbs on for 8 hours every day for an entire year. For now, the Museum will be the only building in Milwaukee with a full solar wall that is generating electricity.
It was reported that Milwaukee-based manufacturer Helios USA has been contracted to produce the Museum's solar panels. Construction is expected to last approximately 5 months, commencing Monday, July 29. The initial phase, which will involve removal of the existing marble façade, is expected to take 4 weeks.
Since the California Mechanic's Lien Law was established more than 100 years ago, it has been black-letter law that a contractor or materials supplier has no right to assert a mechanic's lien against public property. Thus, contractors and material suppliers (and even legal practitioners) have resigned themselves to the notion that the only available remedies on "public projects" are claims against payment bonds and the enforcement of stop notices. Within the last few years, however, the inflexible rule that "you cannot lien public property" has begun to change. In connection with the rise of construction projects arising from public-private collaboration, courts have begun to allow claimants to assert liens against private interests in publicly-owned property.
In the 2010 South Bay Expressway case, a bankruptcy court considered whether a general contractor that built a publicly-owned toll road could pursue a mechanic's lien against a private developer's leasehold interest in that public road. The California Department of Transportation had entered into a long-term lease with the developer, whereby the developer would construct the toll road and thereafter collect tolls and operate the public road. The court held that, as long as the lien claimant sought only to encumber and foreclose upon the developer's leasehold interest, the lien was valid.
This recent legal development offers new hope to contractors that are not paid on "public projects." In the wake of the South Bay Expressway decision, claimants are successfully recording and foreclosing upon mechanic's liens on a variety of projects built on public land. For example, we've seen liens successfully asserted against, among other interests, a concessionaire's leasehold interest in concession space at a public airport and a solar company's long-term rights to operate a solar facility and sell electrical power to a municipality. In many such cases, absent the ability to enforce their lien rights, the contractors would have had no ability to enforce their rights to payment.
The bottom-line is this: a contractor should no longer assume that it has no lien rights simply because its work was completed on public property.
On July 17, 2013, New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the State University of New York's (SUNY) College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) will revitalize a vacant Kodak cleanroom building in Rochester, "transforming it into a first-of-its-kind CNSE Photovoltaic Manufacturing and Technology Development Facility (CNSE MDF) for crystalline silicon photovoltaics, part of a $100 million initiative that will attract solar energy jobs and companies to the Greater Rochester Area." This effort will also include the acquisition and relocation to the CNSE MDF of "the assets of Silicon Valley solar company SVTC as part of a $100M initiative that will create over 100 high-tech jobs and positions New York as the national leader in accelerating innovative solar technologies."
The project is expected to set "a precedent for further investment in this green industry in New York State" and to "attract additional investments from companies around the world and accelerate our development and use of solar energy," growing New York's clean energy economy. It is reportedly the "first initiative as part of the project will relocate a critical component of the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) SunShot initiative from California's Silicon Valley to Upstate New York, positioning New York as the recognized national leader in accelerating the development and use of solar energy nationwide."
Renovation of the former Kodak's MEMS inkjet facility is underway to transform the 57,000-square-foot building at 115 Canal Landing Boulevard in the Canal Ponds Business Park. The initiative will include the fitting up of a state-of-the-art, 20,000-square-foot cleanroom. The press release confirms that a late fall opening is anticipated.
As part of the CNSE MDF project, it was reported that "over $19 million in cutting-edge tools and equipment formerly utilized by SVTC, a Silicon Valley-based solar energy company, are being relocated to the CNSE MDF and will constitute the foundation of the manufacturing development line, a result of the acquisition of SVTC's assets by CNSE." It further confirmed that the U.S. Department of Energy "is providing nearly $11 million in cash funding to support procurement and installation of high-tech tools and equipment, with investment from private industry partners expected to exceed $65 million to support the development and operation of the CNSE MDF." In addition, it was reported that, "[t]o support the project, New York State will invest $4.8 million through the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA)." New York's investment is to be directed entirely to CNSE with no private company to receive any state funds as part of the initiative.
This is to be the solar industry's first full-service collaborative facility dedicated to advancing crystalline silicon, or c-Si technologies. The CNSE MDF will provide a range of services and equipment, including complete manufacturing lines, access to individual tools, secure fab space for users' proprietary tools, and pilot production services in an intellectual property secure environment. It is expected that the CNSE MDF will attract solar industry companies to New York to access a state-of-the-art resource that will dramatically reduce the cost, time, and risk associated with transitioning innovative solar technologies from research to commercial manufacturing of crystalline silicon photovoltaics. It is also expected to play a critical role in the national effort to develop a strong photovoltaic (PV) manufacturing industry, and serve to accelerate the introduction and use of solar energy in homes and businesses across the country. Among other things, it is expected to enable education and training to support the expansion of the highly skilled workforce required by the U.S. PV manufacturing industry.
The establishment of the CNSE MDF for c-Si PV technology is also expected to complement and expand the capabilities and expertise of the national U.S. Photovoltaic Manufacturing Consortium (PVMC), headquartered at CNSE as part of the DOE's SunShot Initiative. The PVMC is reportedly leading the national effort to reduce the cost of installed solar energy systems from $5 per watt to less than $1 per watt over the next 10 years.
Governor Cuomo's announcement comes on the heels of his July 9, 2013 announcement that $54 Million will be awarded to fund 79 large-scale solar power projects across the State of New York, adding 64 MWs to the state's solar capacity.
UPDATE: Sacramento Business Journal, California hits solar power record, twice (Mar. 11, 2014); The Huffington Post, California More Than Doubles Solar Energy In 2013 (Jan. 13, 2014): "California installed more megawatts of solar energy in 2013 than it did in the last 30 years combined, the California Solar Energy Industries Association reported ... 'Today, California is closing out the year with more than 2,000 MW of rooftop solar systems installed statewide,' CALSEIA executive director Bernadette Del Chiaro said."
On July 10, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) issued its California Solar Initiative Annual Program Assessment on the progress of the California Solar Initiative (CSI). The Assessment reflects that the program has installed 66% of its total goal with another 19% reserved in pending projects. This is an estimated 1,629 MW of installed solar capacity at 167,878 customer sites in the investor-owned utility territories through the end of the first quarter of 2013. The CPUC estimates that this is enough to power approximately 150,000 homes and avoid building three power plants. To read the Assessment, click California Solar Initiative Annual Program Assessment.
In January 2007, California began an $3.3 billion ratepayer-funded effort to install 3,000 MW of new solar over the next decade and transform the market for solar energy by reducing the cost of solar generating equipment. The CPUC's portion of the solar effort is known as the CSI. The CPUC boasts that is the country's largest solar program and has a $2.2 billion budget and a goal of 1,940 MW of solar capacity by the end of 2016.