The number of comments filed with the U.S. Department of Labor against Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Programs being permitted in the construction industry was record setting, the North America’s Building Trades Unions announced.
“This historic number of nearly 325,000 comments submitted by working men and women across the United States, makes it clear that construction workers don’t want the federal government to cut wages and destroy jobs in a dangerous economic experiment,” said NABTU President Sean McGarvey, in an Aug. 27 prepared statement. “The message from Michigan to Florida, from Pennsylvania to New Mexico was absolutely clear: they don’t want the swamp to undermine their standard of living and the opportunity for future generations to realize the American Dream.”
Unlike the existing government monitored registered apprenticeship programs operated by the building trades for about 80 years, IRAPs would provide private organizations, such as employers and trade associations, the ability to create their own apprenticeship programs.
The difference would be that IRAPs would not be subject to the same stringent regulations as registered programs as they would be self-monitored.
Many within the union construction industry believe IRAPs will lead to a reduction in wages, a reduced standard of safety and lower work quality. This could include contractors associated with IRAPs creating a permanent class of apprentices, who would be paid low wages. These same contractors could then under bid union contractors.
NABTU has been leading the charge to make the current IRAP exemption for construction permanent. The efforts went into high gear in June, when the DOL issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish a process for the DOL to create IRAPs.
“Our members do not stand alone,” McGarvey said. “Through this comment period, contractors, industry leaders, project owners, educators, safety and training professionals, investors, community advocates, faith leaders, environmental stewards, veterans, State Apprenticeship Agencies and overwhelming bipartisan majorities in Congress have spoken in one voice: IRAP’s have no place in the construction industry.”
Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), Republican Leader of the Education and Labor Committee, along with 19 other Republican members of Congress, sent a letter to the Acting DOL Secretary Patrick Pizzella, urging the department to allow all industries to participate in IRAPs in order to meet labor market demands.
While the 20 Republican members of Congress tried to influence the process with their letter, McGarvey cautioned that the American people are paying attention as the 2020 elections draw near.
“Though the comment period on this major rule occurred in the middle of the summer vacation season and no customary extensions to the time for filing comments were granted, this historic engagement by working families should remind those in the White House and the Department of Labor, who are pursuing their own, narrow, ideological agenda that the voting public is now on high alert and will be watching as this proposal develops,” he said.