By: Steve Conway, Pyramid Construction Services, LLC, A Quandel Company, ABC Keystone 2023 Chair of the Board
Back in February, I wrote about the growing trend for RCOs (Responsible Contractor Ordinances) that are popping up in municipalities throughout the Central PA region. Though potentially damaging to those municipalities, they have been isolated to date. ABC Keystone continues to track these isolated incidents and respond accordingly by attending public meetings and providing suggested modifications to the RCOs to make it fair for local trades to compete on public works projects in their communities. Our voices are being heard and we will continue to push back against the unfair and unjustifiable requirements.
Just when we thought this was going to be unique to small pockets of the state, a new House bill, HB 1449, has been introduced that would place a statewide RCO on all “Public Works Projects”. A “Public Works Project” is defined as any aspect of construction, reconstruction, demolition, alteration, repair, or maintenance work completed under and contract or cooperative purchase agreement by a Commonwealth agency which costs at least $300,000. This legislation has a number of requirements, and while less restrictive than some of the recent RCOs, this RCO still requires all trades to have someone enrolled in a registered apprenticeship program. Unfortunately, a number of trades either don’t have a registered program available or if there is one it is hours away.
As non-joint (merit shop) contractors, we are all required to abide by the apprenticeship ratios approved by the Pennsylvania Apprenticeship and Training Council. The standard for most non-joint trades is a 4-to-1 ratio, meaning you can only have 1 apprentice for every 4 journeypersons. Otherwise stated, your number of apprentices cannot exceed 20% of your skilled workforce, while most joint trades are allowed a 1-to-1 ratio. On the one hand these RCOs look to force registered apprenticeship as the way to train our workforce. Conversely, the commonwealth hampers our members’ ability to add more registered apprentices and the contractors in rural areas of the state with limited access to apprenticeship programs will not be allowed to participate in these opportunities in their backyards.
ABC Keystone is a proponent of the idea of an RCO. The idea of having a skilled and trained workforce with a strong understanding of their respective trade combined with knowledge of the safety practices set forth by OSHA is a good thing. As with any industry, we have unskilled and unsafe peers in our industry who should be forced to comply or not be allowed to participate. But the bill as written discriminates against a number of skilled workers that have gained their knowledge of the trades through avenues other than an apprenticeship program recognized by the Commonwealth. Consider the 30-year veteran mechanic that has honed his/her trade through years of hands-on experience working with other masters of the trade, or the individual who went through training at a post-secondary school (e.g., Thaddeus Stevens and Penn College of Technology). What about the small, disadvantaged business owners that will not be allowed to bid work in their communities?
ABC Keystone is currently finalizing a bill with the cooperation of our friends at the Capitol that would introduce a similar bill, but one that doesn’t discriminate against capable and qualified contractors that rely on this type of work as part of their business plan.
I encourage you to reach out to your local Senate and House representatives and encourage them to oppose this bill as it is currently written. This will forever change the landscape of how work is acquired and executed for the Commonwealth.
Posted July 10, 2023