East Bay Times: Accused of working without license, electrical firm sues group for investigating without license

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black diamond electric
Google Street View image of the Black Diamond Electric headquarters

An Antioch-based electrical company accused of letting employees work without an electrician’s license has sued a union-affiliated group for investigating the firm without an investigator’s license, The East Bay Times reports.

Black Diamond Electric filed a complaint in Contra Costa Superior Court in September arguing that the Northern California Electrical Construction Industry (NCECI), a labor management cooperative trust, illegally trespassed at its residential construction sites and recorded employees without its permission.

The contractor alleges that two NCECI compliance officers concealed their identities, trespassed on private property and illegally recorded video and audio interviews with the contractor’s employees. They should have had a private investigator’s license, the complaint states.

“The NCECI has people whose job it is to try to find fault with non-union contractors,” Black Diamond Electric attorney David Birka-White was quoted as saying. “They are a union-backed organization that is in competition with Black Diamond, which has several hundred employees.”

The East Bay Times said multiple attempts to interview officials at NCECI were unsuccessful.

The pair of NCECI investigators visited work sites in Santa Rosa, Ripon and Vacaville, then handed the information over to the California State Licensing Board, which looked into it in context of the many violations that came before.

Black Diamond Electric owner Jason Pauline and secretary Carey Neely were given multiple citations in 2011 for allowing uncertified electricians to do electrical work. In 2012, the investigators for the CSLB found uncertified electrical workers doing work such as “installing breakers in the main panel of a dwelling,” according to the accusation.

After numerous citations, they were fined $15,000 and were allowed to keep their license, but were put on probation for two years.

In March of 2017, another accusation against Black Diamond Electric was filed by the Contractors State License Board (CSLB) stating that it allowed certified electrician trainees to perform work without the supervision of a certified electrician.

“We do have progressive discipline and we gain more when we get them into compliance and follow the laws,” said Rick Lopes, chief of public affairs for the CSLB. “We continued to turn the heat up on them and they put us in a position where they are running out of chances to keep their license.”

Birka-White argued that these employees were not doing electrical work in both circumstances.

“There’s absolutely no evidence of wrongdoing in both cases … (Pauline’s) employees in the first go-around were not connecting electrical devices,” Birka-White said. “He pleaded to it, but he didn’t do the crime.”

Birka-White said that the state’s definition of electrician is someone who engages in the “connection of electrical devices,” but that all the work surrounding that, such as digging a ditch, or drilling a hole, can be done by a general contractor. CSLB’s definition, referenced in the state labor code, is more expansive, including placing, erecting and installing wires, fixtures, conduits and more.

“How is a union-based organization the de facto police force for the CSLB?” Birka-White said.

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