Mo. SC: Water tank contract not 'maintenance work'

Jessica M. Karmasek Mar. 10, 2011, 11:53am


JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (Legal Newsline) - The Missouri Supreme Court, in a ruling earlier this month, said prevailing wages must be paid for work described in a public works contract.

The Court, in its unanimous opinion filed March 1, reversed a trial court's finding that work to be performed under the contract is "maintenance work" and doesn't require prevailing wages to be paid.

The Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations and the Labor and Industrial Relations Commission of Missouri had appealed the trial court's finding in favor of Utility Service Co. The department and commission were represented by Jeremiah J. Morgan of the Missouri Attorney General's Office.

Monroe City had entered into a water tank maintenance contract with Utility Services for work on the city's elevated water storage tank and tower.

The state's prevailing wage act requires that a prevailing hourly rate of wages be paid to all workers employed by or on behalf of any public body "engaged in the construction of public works, exclusive of maintenance work."

The contractor sought a written statement from the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations outlining whether the contractor was required to pay prevailing wages for its annual inspections, painting and welding repairs of the water storage tank.

The contractor maintained that the work is "maintenance work" that is exempt from coverage under the act; the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations asserted that the work is "construction" that is subject to the act.

Ultimately, the contractor sued the department, seeking a declaratory judgment that the contracted work was "maintenance work" exempt from the act.

The trial court entered summary judgment in the contractor's favor. The department appealed.

Justice Mary R. Russell, who authored the Court's 14-page opinion, said any work encompassed in the plain meaning of the statutory language broadly defining "construction" is work that requires payment of prevailing wages, regardless of whether the work changes the size, type or extent of an existing facility.

The Court said because the work described in the contract at issue involves "construction," the trial court erred in determining the work was "maintenance work" exempt from the act.

Thus, prevailing wages must be paid, the Court ruled.

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