By: David G. Greineder, IOM, ABC Keystone Director of Government Affairs
On December 17, in Harrisburg, the House Labor & Industry Committee will hold a public hearing on the state’s outdated and discriminatory apprenticeship law. We are encouraged and applaud committee Chairman Jim Cox (R-Berks) for calling this hearing and for shedding light on the inequalities that exist against the merit shop, which have been allowed for far too long.
Roger Brubaker, Director of Construction Services with Meadow Valley Electric, and a member of the State Apprenticeship and Training Council (SAC), will be representing ABC PA at the hearing. His testimony can be summed up with the following quote: “It amazes me that the changes we support have been met with such fierce resistance. We want nothing more than to follow the same rules and standards that are applied to union apprenticeship programs. I am confused why anyone on this committee, or in this Legislature, would be opposed to that.”
There are two main issues ABC PA has with the administration of Pennsylvania’s apprenticeship program. The first is the blatant discrimination against the merit shop. The apprenticeship regulations prescribe the ratio of journeyworkers in proportion to apprentices. Ratios for merit shop-sponsored programs are mandated to have four journeyworkers to each apprentice. Regulations provide union sponsored programs flexibility to set their own ratio through a collective bargaining agreement. Merit shop programs have no such flexibility.
On many occasions, union representatives have disputed there are two sets of rules and say merit shop programs can simply request a ratio modification through the SAC. The fact is, the union-dominated SAC is not open to merit shop ratio modification requests and repeatedly votes them down, claiming any lowering of the ratio is unsafe.
Our second issue with Pennsylvania’s apprenticeship system is it violates federal rules. In 2008 – nearly twelve years ago – the U.S. Department of Labor updated apprenticeship regulations. States were given two years to amend necessary laws to bring their programs into compliance. Federal rules require state apprenticeship councils to be advisory only. This means the SAC should not have the power to approve or deny apprenticeship program applications or even take up requests for ratio modifications.
Pennsylvania is now the only state out of compliance. The sobering fact is if Pennsylvania came into compliance, the playing field would be leveled. Our opposition resists any effort to amend the apprenticeship law and uses its political leverage to block legislation because their power and control on the SAC would go away. ABC PA will no longer stand silent on this issue and calls on the Legislature to take the steps necessary to bring fairness to the system. Frankly, it’s an embarrassment we have this distinction.
The archaic rules the merit ship is forced to abide by make it hard for companies to hire apprentices and severely limits the amount of training opportunities for young people who want to work in the trades. Bringing more people into the trades is a workforce development issue, plain and simple. At a time when our economy is seeing growth, at a time when ABC members are desperate to fill open positions, and at a time when we need to train new workers to replace retiring workers, the Legislature should not be in the business of putting almost 90 percent of the construction industry at a disadvantage.
ABC PA looks forward to presenting our case to the committee this month. If you are not signed-up to receive email alerts, please download the “ABC Action App” from the app store on your mobile device, or at abc.org/abcaction.
December 3, 2019