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AGO 1957 No. 54 - May 03, 1957
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

"P" MISC PUBLIC WORKS ‑- COMPENSATION OF STATE, COUNTY AND MUNICIPAL EMPLOYEES THEREON

Regular employees of the state, or any county, municipality, or political subdivision created by its laws, whose wages are predicated upon a monthly or per diem basis, that are employed upon public works, are excluded from the requirement of being paid the prevailing hourly wage in the locality within the state where such labor is performed which must be paid to all other laborers, workmen, or mechanics so employed.

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                                                                    May 3, 1957

Honorable Cliff Yelle
State Auditor
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 57-58 No. 54


Attn:  !ttMr. A. E. Hankins, Chief Examiner

            Division of Municipal Corporations

Dear Sir:

            You have requested an opinion from this office regarding Section 1, Chapter 63, Laws of 1945, prescribing the method of payment to be used by the state and political subdivisions thereof in compensation for labor expended upon public works.  The following is a paraphrase of the questions posed:

            (1) Does the phrase "workmen or other persons regularly employed on monthly or per diem salary" include street department personnel of a municipality?

            (2) Is the term "per diem" intended to encompass those municipal employees whose compensation is predicated upon an hourly basis of payment?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We answer question (1) in the affirmative, as qualified in the analysis below, and question (2) in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 1, Chapter 63, Laws of 1945 reads as follows:

            "The hourly wages to be paid to laborers, workmen or mechanics, upon all public works of the state or any county, municipality or political subdivision created by its laws, shall be not less than the prevailing rate of wage for an hour's work in the same trade or occupation in the locality within the state where such labor is performed.  This act shall not apply to workmen or other persons regularly employed on monthly or per diem salary by the state, or any county, municipality, or political subdivision created by its laws."

            The codification of this section, RCW 39.12.020, reads the same except that the phrase, "by the state, or any county, municipality, or political subdivision created by its laws", in the last sentence of the statute, was deleted by the reviser.

            The concluding sentence of this section excludes from the method of compensation prescribed, in the first sentence, for a certain class of employees who labor on public works, "workmen or other persons regularly employed on a monthly or per diem salary."  The phrase "other persons" is a general term defining a class inclusive of all employees who are regularly employed by the state or a political subdivision thereof.  Words of a statute must be given their generally accepted meaning in the absence of anything in the statute to the contrary.  Cochran v. Nelson, 26 Wn. (2d) 82.

            The primary object in construing statutes is to ascertain and give effect to the legislative intent.  Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn. (2d) 390.  It Seems clear to us that the legislature intended to exclude from the operation of the statute all persons regularly employed on a monthly or per diem salary.  It appears that the word "workmen" was inserted merely to clarify the intention that the phrase "other persons" was to be all-inclusive.  The fact that "laborers" and "mechanics" were not specifically mentioned, as they were in the first sentence of the statute, can have no significance, since these categories are plainly comprehended within the phrase "other persons".

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            Your second question relates to the meaning of the term "per diem".  In Gallarno v. Long, 214 Iowa 805, 243 N.W. 719, the court, quoting "Webster's New International Dictionary", stated that "per diem" means "by the day".  InScroggie v. Scarborough, 162 S.C. 218, 160 S.E. 596, in construing a particular constitutional provision regarding compensation of state legislators, it was determined that when used in connection with compensation, wages, or salaries, the term "per diem" means pay for a day's services.  The words of a statute are to be given their ordinary meaning unless the statute appears otherwise contrary.  Cochran v. Nelson, supra.  The literal translation of the term "per diem" is "by the day".

            Therefore, if regular employees of the state, or any county, municipality, or political subdivision created by its laws, whose wages are predicated upon a monthly or per diem basis, are employed upon a public work, they are excluded from the required method of payment laid out in the first sentence of this statute.  This statute is not concerned as to how or in what capacity such employees may be utilized.

            We trust the foregoing will prove helpful to you.

Yours very truly,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General


ERNEST M. FURNIA
Assistant Attorney General

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