Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf announcing expanded state support for apprenticeships at the Pittsburgh Local 5 joint apprenticeship training center in July.

Pennsylvania IBEW locals have received more than $2 million in state grant money to expand their training centers as a part of Gov. Tom Wolf’s push to support apprenticeships.

Beaver Local 712 and Allentown Local 375 each received about $1 million through the state’s Redevelopment Capital Assistance program, and Wolf announced a $30 million job training program at Pittsburgh Local 5’s training center.

Wolf was elected four years ago with the backing and support of organized labor and this November he faces a union-busting business-owner in his bid for re-election.

“This is the way democracy is supposed to work,” said International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “We are the majority, not the bankers and CEOs, and elected officials should support policies that help the many, not the few. Too many politicians forget that. Gov. Wolf hasn’t.”

Local 712 is hosting one of the largest union electrical construction projects in the nation. More than 1,000 IBEW members will be working full-tilt for years on the natural gas cracking plant being built by Shell along the Ohio River in Beaver, Pa.

Local 712 has only about 400 members.

Travelers will step up. It is one of the strengths of the union and benefits of membership that we can man the job, but there is still a need for more apprentices. It’s in everyone’s interest to train more of western Pennsylvania’s young people in a trade that pays far better than the low-skill service jobs currently filling the classifieds.It is good for the citizens, good for the union, good for the employer and good for the state.

But Local 712’s training center is too small, dated and too out-of-the-way for many of the young workers it's looking to attract. With $1 million from the state’s Redevelopment Capital Assistance program, Local 712 plans to build a 20,000 square-foot training center in the heart of it's jurisdiction, making apprenticeship more realistic for people who previously lived hours away.

“Building a new center is exactly the kind of project that needed financing but would have gotten only words,” said Local 712 Business Manager Frank Telesz.

Now, Telesz says, they will be able to sustain apprenticeship classes nearly twice the size of only a few years ago.

“We used to be a one-county local. Now we are four counties and more than 100 miles to the edge of the jurisdiction,” he said. “With this investment, we can broaden our pool of recruits and have a physical presence in half our counties.”

For Local 375, the issue was not manning a single, massive job, but missing out on dozens of small ones. With nearly $1 million through the RCAP, Local 375 planned to expand training space and start a residential program this September.

The new training center will be nearly twice the size of the decades-old center it had been using. Funding came with the support not only of Wolf, but also from the chairman of the State Senate Appropriations Committee, Republican Pat Browne.

“Nothing is free, but I can’t see the downside yet,” said Business Manager Paul Anthony. “Getting the right people in office is good, but it’s not just about party. They have to support our mission and values, and when they do, we need to come out and support them."

RCAP is useful for capital expenditure, but  Wolf and the Pennsylvania Legislature wanted to create a competitive grant program that would support ongoing workforce training. Wolf introduced the PASmart initiative in July at Pittsburgh Local 5’s training center.

PASmart will invest $20 million to expand STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics – education, $3 million to increase industry partnerships and $7 million to support apprenticeships.

“Apprenticeships transform lives,” said Wolf. “With apprenticeships, people can provide for their families by earning a good living and learning a skill. We need more apprentices to enhance our well-educated and talented workforce and attract more industry to Pennsylvania.”

Wolf’s opponent in November is the CEO of a nonunion trash company and one of the state’s highest-profile proponents of right-to-work laws.

Former  state Sen. Scott Wagner even compared the state’s labor movement to ruthless dictators like Adolf Hitler and Vladimir Putin from the floor of the Legislature.

When initially asked to apologize to union members, he told them to “grow up.”

“We have good news to celebrate and an easy decision in the fall,” Stephenson said. “If you want politicians to support policies that help working families, then working families need to support politicians when they do right by us.”