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December 2019

The Front Line: Politics & Jobs
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Fight Continues to Protect Apprenticeships as
DOL Prepares to Issue Rule

The IBEW and its allies in Congress are continuing their fight to protect the building trades' unparalleled apprenticeships as the Labor Department prepares to issue a rule as soon as this month that could usher in substandard journeyman training.

A U.S. House subcommittee is planning to hold a hearing on the DOL's proposed Industry-Recognized Apprenticeship Program (IRAP), which is supported by cost-cutting, nonunion contractors.

Rep. Bobby Scott, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee said, the union-run programs, which are registered with the DOL and date back as far as a century, are invaluable to workers and the public good.

"Unlike IRAPs, registered apprenticeships have strong bipartisan support and are proven to be effective in offering workers a clear path to the middle class," Scott said in a statement when the DOL issued the proposed rule in June.

"Instead of wasting money on unproven IRAPs, the Department should support innovation and expansion already taking place with registered apprenticeships in a way that does not compromise quality and accountability," he said.

A subcommittee under Scott planned to take up the issue at a hearing originally set for Oct. 24. Memorial services for their late House colleague, Rep. Elijah Cummings, forced them to postpone, but they are expected to reschedule.

"We appreciate that House members understand what's at stake," International President Lonnie R. Stephenson said. "The fact is, lower-tier contractors are ready to sacrifice safety and experience for profit, taking away work from the best-trained electricians in the world."

More than 65,000 IBEW members and another quarter-million from other trades weighed in during the public comment period over the summer, urging the DOL to leave their union-run construction apprenticeships and stringent standards alone.

As originally proposed, the building trades are exempt from IRAPs, which would create apprenticeships in largely white-collar industries that pose less danger to workers and demand less expertise.

However, the DOL made clear that the final rule — taking comments from both sides into account — could revoke the exemption, allowing contractors to run apprenticeships with far fewer hours of training and non-standard curricula.

Graduates of those programs would qualify as "journeymen," undermining the hard-earned title and wealth of experience that IBEW and other union-trained workers bring to jobsites nationwide. Those programs would also be able to pay so-called apprentices minimum wage and require little actual training to take place, effectively substituting poorly paid unskilled workers to pad apprentice ratios and drive down the cost of nonunion bids on construction projects.

"Everyone's safety would be at risk," Stephenson said. "Our jobs demand meticulous attention to detail and a skill level honed through years of intense classroom and hands-on training. We build schools and hospitals, office towers and sports arenas, highways and bridges and the utility infrastructure that powers North America.

"Imagine working on those projects alongside people who could endanger you, not to mention the risks when those buildings and roads are opened to the public."

Thousands of members who spoke out to protect the union's top-quality construction apprenticeships also responded to an IBEW survey that asked them about their training and how their union membership has changed their lives.

Stephenson encourages members in every branch to visit to share how the IBEW has impacted their lives.

"My membership in this brotherhood has meant everything to me and to my family, but I was filled with pride reading the responses from so many of you who felt the same way," he said.


Apprentices like these at Portland, Ore., Local 48 could see their training devalued if the Labor Department chooses not to exempt the construction industry from its proposed IRAP rule.