The More the Merrier

Kristi Pronovost The Merit Shop Advocacy Blog, The Merit Shop Spokesman Blog

By: Austin Cawley, ABC Keystone, Government Affairs Coordinator

Harrisburg, PA—ABC PA members from across the Commonwealth gathered in the Capitol Building to participate in a hearing on apprenticeship. To the astonishment of many, the hearing room was packed with ABC PA members and our friends with the Independent Electrical Contractors (IEC) organization. ABC Keystone’s Incoming Board Chair Roger Brubaker, and Former National IEC Chair Bruce Seilhammer, testified as part of a panel to discuss several pieces of legislation that would advance workforce development and end discrimination in the journeyperson-to-apprentice ratio.

Here are the key takeaways:

  • ABC PA calls out the system for what it is – discriminatory: The merit shop minced no words in calling out the two-tiered system as discriminatory. Roger challenged the committee to look at the system for what it is – treating non-union programs differently than other programs.  ABC PA will continue to label the ratio issue this way until a level playing field is achieved.
  • ABC PA proves apprenticeship programs are safe and pay good wages: As expected, critics of lowering the ratios suggested doing so would be unsafe and drive down wages. ABC PA dispelled these myths with hard facts and data. ABC PA conducted a random survey using Experience Modification Rates – used to determine workers’ compensation premiums – of 300 union and non-union companies. The result? There is no significant difference between safety rates. Providing a safe workplace is a sound business practice that the entire industry strives to achieve. When it comes to wages, ABC PA pointed out that three-year and four-year apprentices get paid at 60 and 70 percent of a journeyperson’s wage, compared to collective bargaining agreements that pay first year apprentices as low as 35 percent.
  • Graduation rates were the talk of the hearing: There were multiple questions asked about apprentice graduation rates. When it comes to training apprentices, the better number to look at is completion. Graduation rates represent the percentage of apprentices that have only completed classroom instruction but have yet to complete their on-the-job training (OJT).  On the other hand, completion rates are the percentage of apprentices that complete both.  ABC PA programs have a completion rate of 58.2 percent, exceeding the national average of 45 percent.
  • Federal compliance is still in question: Federal apprenticeship rules were revised in 2008. States were required to update laws and regulations to reflect the federal requirements. In 2013, Pennsylvania was granted “conditional recognition” because the federal government approved revised rules submitted by the state Department of Labor & Industry.  After seven years, the steps to implement the approved rules has not been initiated, meaning Pennsylvania is still not aligned with federal apprenticeship standards.

ABC PA was proud to represent our membership at this historic hearing.  As legislative leaders bring stakeholders together in the New Year, we are resolved to engage in the conversation and be difference makers. Our goal is to reach a fair compromise and move the ball forward on this issue. The time is now.

December 20, 2019