San Jose school district accused of hiring allegedly shady contractor
San Jose Unified board members during a September 2019 meeting. File photo.

    A labor watchdog organization is accusing the San Jose Unified School District of hiring contractors and subcontractors that allegedly skirted California labor laws.

    The labor watchdog Foundation for Fair Contracting wrote letters to district Superintendent Nancy Albarrán in December accusing Glendora-based California Commercial Pools Inc., a contracting firm, of failing to comply with the state’s skilled and trained workforce obligations. Two subcontractors hired under California Commercial Pools, Mastercraft Waterproofing and USA Tech Electric, face similar allegations.

    FFC Executive Director Brian Berthiaume said district leaders knowingly continued their relationship with California Commercial Pools despite learning about the violations. That’s despite previously hiring contractors with similar alleged violations — a charge the district has denied.

    The allegations are under investigation by the California Department of Industrial Relations, the body that governs skilled and trained workforce complaints.

    Stephen McMahon, the district’s deputy superintendent, said the complaints were reviewed by the district immediately and forwarded to the DIR.

    “San Jose Unified is committed to following public contract code. We work really hard to make sure everything goes the right way,” said McMahon. “If we’re informed of a concern, we follow up immediately.”

    According to district documents, the work was contracted to California Commercial Pools in early 2019, which involved renovations and design work for pools at six middle schools and four high schools totaling an estimated $5.7 million. Projects include new starting blocks on some of the pools, an equipment room renovation and renovations to a pool chemical room.

    However, the FFC said it found several allegations of noncompliance to the state’s skilled and trained workforce obligations, which requires contractors and subcontractors to hire a certain percentage of skilled apprentices or face monthly fines of up to $5,000 for each month the violation isn’t corrected. In 2019, when the agreement was signed, the requirement was 50%.

    “We hold our contractors to the highest standards,” McMahon said.

    Berthiaume also accused the district of failing to ensure worker safety. He said the district was not transparent in its hiring process and “rubber-stamped” the contract with California Commercial Pools to move the project along quickly and under budget.

    “We knew they (California Commercial Pools) couldn’t comply with a skilled and trained workforce,” Berthiaume said.

    Issues with the hiring process were brought up to the district, according to Berthiaume, in order to correct it.

    “What did staff do? They came up with a PowerPoint,” Berthiaume said. “And my firm is doing our work, and we’re finding out there is noncompliance from A to Z with the prime contractor and about five or six of their subcontractors.”

    The noncompliance concerns were mentioned in emails to the district by at least one district parent who wished to remain anonymous. They claimed they were rebuffed by the district and that the district declined to meet with them on the matter.

    “If you don’t have qualified, educated, trained workers doing the work, you’re putting in jeopardy the lives of the students, workers and teachers in those buildings,” said the parent. “It’s a safety issue first and foremost.”

    Should the DIR rule that the district hired contractors that violated labor laws, the district is required by the state to stop paying the contractor and subcontractors until they come into compliance. The school district declined to comment on whether or not those steps were taken, saying the case is still under investigation.

    “We’re working with the Department of Industrial Relations on the case related to California (Commercial) Pools. They’ll work through all those intricacies and make sure we get all the facts,” McMahon said. “We want to make sure we have all the information accurate and get things done the right way.”

    California Commercial Pools and Mastercraft Waterproofing were not immediately available for comment. USA Tech Electric declined to comment.

    A public records request from San José Spotlight to the DIR for the complaints is still pending.

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter.

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